EU 'will not compromise' on food safety in US trade pact
A top EU official has sought to allay German fears about the US being able to export bleached chicken and hormone beef to Europe once a free trade pact comes into force.
"What is non-negotiable are food safety standards. Hormones are prohibited, there is a strict regime of genetically modified organisms and this is not going to go away," Ignacio Garcia Bercero, EU's chief negotiator on the "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" with the US told journalists in Berlin on Tuesday (11 February).
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He said the EU's strict regime for control of chemical substances would also not be altered, as "mutual recognition" of safety standards only applies when the standards are "compatible."
A recent report aired on Germany’s public TV broadcaster ARD cited efforts by US lobbyists to circumvent existing EU bans on bleached chicken or hormone beef.
But Bercero said talks with the US officials are "professional" and that it is only natural for US firms to defend their interests.
"There are certain German views that our values are going to be compromised. No way this is going to happen," he said.
NGOs scrutinising the EU-US talks are sceptical about his reassurances, however.
"We know the corporate wishlists for the talks, which mention all the points that the [European] Commission is now calling red lines - from chlorinated chicken to GMOs," says Pia Eberhardt from Corporate Europe Observatory.
She noted that several US congressmen have said they are not going to approve a deal that does not open more market access for American agribusiness, "including through getting rid of certain food safety standards."
"The EU also has offensive interests in the talks. How will they get them through if they are not going to give in on any of the red lines? These are two-way negotiations, not a one way street," Eberhardt told this website.
In a press release issued last year when the trade talks were first announced, the US Poultry Groups - an umbrella lobby organisation for poultry meat producers - said the US trade ambassador Ron Kirk, who leads the negotiations on the American side, had "listened to and accepted recommendations that agriculture and unwarranted non-tariff barriers, especially non-science based sanitary and phytosanitary provisions, be an important part of the negotiations and that any final trade agreement successfully address these issues.”
US poultry producers have fewer sanitary demands on conditions for chicken, because once the chickens are slaughtered, they are dipped in a bleaching solution which kills all germs and bacteria. The EU has banned imports of this kind of meat.
“The result of this non-science-based action is that the United States has not been able to export poultry to the EU since 1997. When TTIP negotiations are successfully concluded, US poultry producers look forward to marketing over $500 million of products to the EU on an annual basis,” the US Poultry Groups said.
Bercero also tried to sooth concerns on transparency in the negotiations.
He said the EU commission has been "fully transparent" from the very beginning and that the European Parliament is briefed before and after each round of negotiations. He added that the commission has appointed a "balanced" advisory group comprising seven business representatives and seven members of civil society - trade unions and NGOs.
But French Green MEP Yannick Jadot, who sits on the trade committee, said access to documents remains a problem, with only a handful of MEPs allowed to see “restricted texts."
"It is unclear if other interested EP committees and/or the advisory group will get access to restricted documents and negotiating texts, which are the most important documents," he told this website.
Jadot also noted that US position papers are under wraps, even for officials in the EU Council, which advises member states.
"It is not accurate to talk about improved transparency and this remains a major concern," he concluded.
Pia Eberhardt of Corporate Europe Observatory said that without disclosure of negotiation texts, "it is almost impossible to provide appropriate feedback for the very proposals that will affect the general public the most."
As for the “advisory group,” Eberhardt said it is "a thinly disguised public relations exercise by the commission to signal openness where there is secrecy and to signal interest in issues such as environmental protection where in fact all it cares about is the hard-core market opening agenda of European business."
A freedom of information request on the meetings held by the EU commission's trade unit since February 2013 shows that of roughly 120 meetings, most were with large corporations and their lobbyists and only a handful with trade unions and consumer groups.