Undermining Food Safety

Trade pacts can require us to limit food labeling and to import meat and poultry that do not meet U.S. food safety standards

Our current trade agreements limit signatory countries’ food safety policies. 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.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 1 percent of all seafood imports for health hazards and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects less than 5 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 texted and 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 can be required to eliminate these rules and allow in the unsafe food under threat of trade sanctions.

The rapid growth in imported food combined with current trade pact rules prioritizing expansion of food trade volumes by limiting countries’ food safety policies 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.

Food Labels

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 in trade sanctions, the Obama administration eliminated the popular law in 2015.

And, 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.

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