From chlorine chicken to hormone beef, hidden genetically modified ingredients, and the protection of the authenticity and provenance of regional products such as Champagne, Black Forrest ham or Cornish pasties, the TTIP proposals on food standards and safety, and on protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications, proved controversial enough last month for the European Parliament not even being able to agree to vote on draft recommendations (although that vote has now taken place).
TTIP (which stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) frequently makes the headlines because of the equally controversial rules on Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedures and also because of the impact it may have on public services, such as the NHS, but its consequences for the food we eat are going to be much more likely to matter to real world consumers.
Most people will probably agree that free trade is a good thing in principle and many of us will no doubt benefit from the boost to European economies which free trade with the US would bring; but free trade is not just about tariffs on imports, it is also about eliminating regulations that pose barriers to trade. In the jargon, this is called ‘regulatory convergence’. While the EU is often much maligned in this country, it has put in place some of the highest standards in the world for protecting us, our health, and our environment from pesticides in agriculture (and the levels of pesticide residues allowed in food), GM foods, growth hormones and accelerators in beef linked to cancer, banned chemicals in cosmetics and more, which our American counter-parts would dearly love to see removed because they mostly apply regulations which are much less strict.
Does it matter? What does, I suppose, matter, is, first, that TTIP must not result in a watering down of standards to the lowest common denominator; and, secondly, that the freedom of European consumers to make informed buying decisions on the basis of clear food labelling is preserved. There may be some who prefer their Parma ham indeed to come from Parma, and are prepared to pay a little extra for the privilege, whereas others may be perfectly happy for their Parma-style ham in fact to come from Pittsburgh. Equally, I would quite like to be told whether the food product I buy contains GM ingredients so that I can decide not to buy it if I don’t want to, rather than for them to be slipped onto my plate under the radar screen.
Until the final wording of a treaty has been negotiated, we will not know what standards and rules the EU and US can agree upon in relation to this and other topics but there are many issues at stake about which EU citizens should care; food is definitely one of those.
This article was originally published in Discover Germany and can be found here.
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