Our current trade agreements limit countries’ food safety standards and consumer labels. Even as these agreements have resulted in a flood of imported food, they force U.S. consumers to rely on other countries’ food safety and inspection systems, for instance requiring us to import food that does not meet U.S. food safety standards.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 1 percent of all dairy, seafood, and fruit imports for health hazards and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects less than 10 percent of imported meat.
It’s a recipe for disaster to rely on agribusiness firms that have moved their production offshore and on foreign governments and their food safety systems to protect Americans’ food safety.
But the “trade” agreement rules require us to import meat and poultry imports from any processing facility in any country that are deemed to have “equivalent” safety standards, even if core parts of our food safety requirements are not met.
Before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the U.S. only accepted imports from one Mexican plant specifically certified by U.S. health inspectors. Now we must accept all meat and poultry from any Mexican or Canadian processing plant.
Even after infrequent USDA spot checks of a sample of Canadian and Mexican processing plants found major health threats, their safety regimes are still deemed “equivalent” to U.S. standards.
Most recently, China’s poultry safety system will be declared “equivalent” opening the door to imports of chicken from a country with deadly food safety problems and widespread avian flu outbreaks.
And labels that reveal where food comes from and how it is processed are considered “illegal trade barriers.”
Corporate Power Before Consumer Health
Under this corporate-rigged “trade” model, any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling or additives higher than international standards can be subject to challenge as “illegal trade barriers.”
The United States has been required to eliminate these rules and allow in the unsafe food under threat of trade sanctions.
The rapid growth in imported food means that U.S. consumers are increasingly being forced to rely on foreign governments to regulate the safety of foods sold and consumed here.
Unfortunately, recent experience has highlighted that many foreign regulatory systems are simply not up to the task. Thus, relying on foreign governments and their food safety systems to protect Americans’ health is a recipe for disaster.
Even consumer-friendly food labels are undermined by corporate trade deals.
Mexico and Canada successfully trade challenged the popular U.S. Country of Origin meat labels that used to let consumer know where the beef, pork and poultry they bought was raised and slaughtered.
In the face of more than a billion dollars in trade sanctions, the Obama administration eliminated the popular law in 2015.
Under NAFTA and other pacts, a foreign meat processing or food corporation operating within the United States can directly challenge our policies that they claim undermine their investment “expectations.”
This creates the potential for a barrage of new demands for taxpayer compensation from multinational corporations using special corporate rights given to them in trade agreements.
- Public Citizen Comments on the Regulatory Response to the WTO’s Ruling against Country-of-Origin Labeling for Meat (April 2013)
- Legal Memo: Options for Coming into Compliance with WTO Ruling on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) (February 2013)
- Considerations for U.S. in Appellate Body Review of Lower Panel Clove Cigarettes Ruling (January 2012)
- Considerations for U.S. in Appellate Body Review of Lower Panel WTO COOL Ruling (January 2012)
- Considerations for U.S. in Appellate Body Review of Lower Panel WTO Tuna-Dolphin Ruling (January 2012)
- Closing Santa’s Workshop: How to Deliver on Obama’s and Congress’ Toy-Safety and Fair-Trade Promises (December 2008)
- Santa’s Workshop: Made in D.C. with Bad Trade Policy (December 2007)
- Trade Deficit in Food Safety: Proposed NAFTA Expansions Replicate Limits On U.S. Food Safety Policy That Are Contributing to Unsafe Food Imports (July 2007)
- The WTO Comes to Dinner: U.S. Implementation of Trade Rules Bypasses Food Safety Requirements (July 2003)
- Book Excerpt: The WTO’s Coming to Dinner and Food Safety is Not on the Menu (October 2003)
- World Trade Organization Rules Against Popular U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labels on Which Consumers Rely (October 20, 2014)
- USDA Stands Firm on Consumer Meat Labels; Will the WTO Continue Its Anti-Consumer Legacy and Authorize Trade Sanctions? (May 20, 2013)
- Press Teleconference Today at 10 a.m.: As President Obama Travels to Mexico, Will He Ask President Pena Nieto to Accept the Obama Administration’s Proposed Changes to Popular U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labels Against Which Mexico Won a WTO Ruling? (May 2013)
- New Legal Analysis Shows How Obama Administration Can Avoid Trade Sanctions by Strengthening Popular Consumer Country-of-Origin Meat Labels Ruled Against by WTO (February 2013)
- WTO Rules Against Yet Another U.S. Consumer Protection Policy (June 2012)
- Public Citizen Applauds Obama Administration’s Efforts to Defend Consumer Country of Origin Meat Labeling; Appeal of WTO Ruling Necessary First Step (March 2012)
- Consumer Groups Call on Obama Administration to Defend COOL on Meat (February 2012)
- Food & Water Watch Hosts Reporters’ Teleconference with Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach on WTO’s Rejection of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) (October 23, 2014)
- Coalition of Businesses and Civil Society Organizations Write to Ambassador Froman Expressing Concerns About TAFTA Proposals that Would Threaten GMO Labeling Efforts (September 30, 2014)
- TPP Food Safety, Food Safety: Bipartisan Congressional Letter Highlights Dangers of Vietnamese Seafood in TPP (May 13, 2014)
- Members of Congress Send a Letter to USTR Calling for Protection of Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling in the TPP (October 2012)
- Consumer Groups Urge President Obama to Appeal COOL Ruling (February 2012)
- Groups to Obama on the Government of Mexico’s Failure to Fulfill NAFTA Obligations for Dolphin-Safe Tuna Label Dispute (February 2012)
- Public Citizen and Consumers Union to President Obama on Chinese Poultry Ban (June 2009)
- Safety Standards Harmonization
- GTW Director Lori Wallach before Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA (House Appropriations Committee) (July 2009)