Food matters: Trade agreements allow shoddy standards

The real threats to national freedoms enjoy a free ride into our daily lives under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

Some people see the United Nations as a threat to national freedoms. Meanwhile, the real threats to national freedoms enjoy a free ride into our daily lives under the auspices of the World Trade Organization. First came the North American Free Trade Agreement. Then came the Multinational Agreement on Investment. The latest attack on national security is a secretive transatlantic discussion called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The Center for Food Safety, a respected U.S. non-profit, has released a report on the trans-Atlantic partnership and its looming impacts on food and farming. Clearly, the lowering of standards will impose a lowest common denominator on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S. corporations demand that the European Union accept GE crops and reduced labelling requirements, meat imports of livestock treated with antibiotics and growth-enhancing hormones; pork that has been treated with a feed additive drug banned in 160 countries, chemically washed poultry, lowered or eliminated animal welfare standards, changed organic standards, changed intellectual property rights law preventing farmers from saving and exchanging seeds, and reduced standards and legislation of toxic chemicals.

On this side of the Atlantic, the EU would have us allow ruminant materials known to transmit mad cow disease, Listeria and E.coli, replace ‘buy national’ policies with ‘buy trans-Atlantic,’ and accept EU milk standards as equivalent to the U.S. Grade A standard.

Under NAFTA, Canadian paper company AbitibiBowater successfully sued its own government via a U.S. subsidiary for loss of profits. Canada was sued because Newfoundland removed the company’s water and timber rights after the paper mill shut down its operations, putting more than 800 employees out of work. A NAFTA tribunal ordered Canada to pay $122 million to the company. In 2010, AbitibiBowater signed a settlement agreement with the federal government under which it obtains $130 million for agreeing to withdraw its claim.

In 1997, U.S.-based Ethyl Corporation sued Canada for banning a known neurotoxin gasoline additive and scooped $30 million.

A lawyer for Ethyl said at the time of the settlement, “It wouldn’t matter if a substance was liquid plutonium destined for a child’s breakfast cereal. If the government bans a product and a U.S.-based company loses profits, the company can claim damages under NAFTA.”

According to the food-safety report, corporations from both sides of the Atlantic are lobbying together for the right to sue sovereign nations in private international tribunals.

The report concludes: “Sometimes referred to as a slow coup d’état, corporations can claim monetary compensation for laws and policies that they believe reduce the value of their investment and/or could affect future profit.”

Hercules cut off one Hydra head and two sprang up. Then he figured out how to cut off the immortal head.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at