Free Trade Agreements & GMOs

Globally, nobody really wants GMOs. American lobbyists and politicians call it a “technical barrier for trade.” Another way to say that might be ‘the will of the people getting in the way of corporate imperialism.’

There’s a new trade agreement in the works between the US and the EU, called TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It will be the largest trade agreement in the world. Trade between the EU and the US is already at some $2 billion per day, but regulations in the EU prevent some imports from the US and operations of certain US companies because they don’t abide by the relatively strict non-GMO and other food safety standards that the EU has adopted because of overwhelming public opinion, and because they prefer the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when it comes to public health. I think most of us have figured out by now that most of the actions taken by our federal government at this point in time are designed to benefit corporations, not people, so it’s important to take a look at things like TTIP through that lens.

One of the tasks TTIP seeks to accomplish is a convergence of the differences in technical regulations, standards and certifications. It would be nice to assume that this convergence would take place at the highest standards, but I’m afraid we can’t make that assumption. I’ve read articles about this changing of standards being scary for Americans because, if this convergence follows the lowest common denominator, as it’s supposed that it will, we won’t be able to trust imported food. Very funny! It’s the rest of the world that’s scared, because allowing GMOs and a list of some 3000 additives in our food supply makes our products the ones that can’t be trusted in terms of safety. Look at how unhealthy we are as a nation. Other people are not exactly clamoring to have what we’re having.

The truly concerning part of this is, in fact, already an aspect of other trade agreements, like NAFTA, and would be a matter of course for TTIP – that is the ability of corporations to sue governments if they judge that the policies, regulations, or actions of that government result in a loss of their “right” to profit. An interesting concept, that – right to profit.

For example, three US-based companies – Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle, and Cargill – sued the Mexican government for refusing to import high-fructose corn syrup under NAFTA. They won the lawsuit and Mexico had to pay the three companies a total of over $169 million. Monsanto has already shown that it’s more than adept at getting what it wants via the legal system. If they can use this tactic in Europe, it will force open a back door to GMOs in the EU. That’s only one concern; there’s a long list of food additives that are approved in the US, but banned in Europe and elsewhere because of serious doubts about their safety, even in limited quantities. Artificial colors are on that list because they’re made from some of the same chemicals you find in gasoline, tar and asphalt.

Guess who gets a seat at the negotiating table. Corporations. It’s expected that they’ll give themselves the ability (as they already have done in the TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership) to challenge countries’ laws, regulations, even court decisions. This would effectively elevate corporations above the level of nation-states in terms of power and should never be allowed. It probably wouldn’t be if the public in any member country had a say, which is why the talks for both the TPP and TTIP are being kept largely secret. The information we do have is from leaked papers, and it bodes ill for the futures of the people who will be affected by the general lowering of standards. By taking away the ability of a country to regulate its own food supply, these agreements will be taking away any level of food sovereignty from individuals as well, because it erases their ability to effect any kind of change even by voting.

Which brings us back to this idea of the “right” of corporations to profit. A truly screwy concept. Corporations do not have some fundamental right to profit. They have the goal of offering products and services that people want. That is how they profit. If they offer something no one wants they should fail. That’s really the basic ideal of capitalism, albeit very simply put, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but what we’re working with now isn’t this basic capitalism; it’s crony capitalism and corporate imperialism at their ugliest. That’s really what’s responsible for companies like Monsanto, which are permitted to steamroll everything that stands in the way of any potential profit, regardless of the cost to human and environmental health and safety. This is really the importance of government regulations – if you’re permissive enough in the beginning, pretty soon you’ve created a monster that you have no control over.

And now a quote from Noam Chomsky circa 2003:

“The most powerful state in world history has proclaimed, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force…The empire has also declared, explicitly and precisely, that it will tolerate no competitors, now or in the future. Its leaders believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss with contempt anyone that stands in their way.” ~ Noam Chomsky

Learn more about these issues:

Corporate Europe Observatory

Eco-Watch

Noam Chomsky’s talk at the World Social Forum in Brasil.

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