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TTIP: The Downfall of European Agriculture?

The TTIP trade agreement between the US and the EU would devastate EU farms as it opens them up to competition from larger, less regulated US operations, writes Dario Sarmadi. This is the conclusion of a new study to be published tomorrow, which also finds that small-scale farmers would be the first to go - with the big winners the large agri-food corporations.

A new study has concluded that the Trans Atlantic Trade & Investment Agreement (TTIP) threatens to completely change the way small and medium sized farms operate, through the use of more genetic engineering and more hormone-treated meat.

Europe's farmers are in the midst of a crisis, with milk prices at rock-bottom, continuing EU sanctions against Russia and smallholders going under.

But the knockout punch could still be yet to come, with the looming behemoth of TTIP, the planned free trade agreement between the EU and USA, on the horizon.

If, as intended by negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic, standards in the agri-food industry are harmonised between the two trading blocs, then entire sectors of European agriculture could be endangered.

"No one can produce products like cereal as cheaply as the USA", said a study on TTIP carried out by UnternehmensGrün, an association formed around green economy interests, seen by EurActiv before its publication. The group will formally launch the report tomorrow.

The study referenced the use of genetic engineering on a local level, weaker thresholds and larger production areas. "European farmers are, economically speaking, outgunned ... it would mean the almost automatic downfall of parts of the agricultural sector."

Currently, the trade in agricultural product and foodstuff exports to the USA total around €15 billion, with imports around the €8 billion mark. But, according to the study, this could all change if and when TTIP is finally negotiated and duties and non-tariff barriers are removed, with US companies gaining near-unlimited access to the European market.

The study relied on its own analysis and surveys of small and medium agriculturists to produce its findings. Its conclusion: "TTIP, in its proposed form, strengthens the position of the large agri-food companies, which already overcome trade barriers through the location of their production centres."

The very existence of 99% of small and middle-sized concerns has been ignored by the European Commission, argued the authors of the report.

Competitive advantage for USA

US farms find themselves in such a superior position not just due to their larger size, but also because of the lower consumer and production standards under which they are obligated to operate, according to the same study.

A prime example is genetic engineering. In Europe, all food that contains greater than 0.9% GMO content must be labelled, whereas in the USA and Canada, no such requirement exists.

The USA has a markedly different attitude towards GMOs, where they are considered to be safe and are therefore produced at a cheaper cost. Due to this price advantage, European farmers would be forced to at least feed their livestock with GMO products, the end products of which are not governed by the same labelling requirement.

Conventional, GMO-free farmers could be squeezed out of the market, warned the study. Furthermore, the German government has legislation in the pipeline that would indeed obligate producers to label products such as milk, meat and eggs if they were produced using GMO feed. TTIP would complicate the adoption of such a law.

Hormones, pesticides and chlorine

The study also referred to the seemingly insurmountable differences between the US and EU agricultural markets, which on the other side of the pond is primarily aimed towards high-performance, exports and mass production, rather than our own focus on smaller-scale production for the domestic market.

The EU ban on growth hormones precludes the majority of US meat from sale in the bloc. This is particularly intended to protect local, conventional farming. The US meat industry has long called upon Washington to eliminate this barrier within the TTIP negotiations.

The issue of pesticides is another area in which US farmers can gain an advantage. Legal pesticide-residue levels are around 5,000% higher in the USA than in the EU. A different philosophy on food security is partly responsible for these divergent attitudes towards pesticide use. The European Commission approached the idea of increasing pesticide residue levels in draft proposals drawn up in 2015.

Then there is the matter of chlorine chicken, which has become a politically-charged buzzword and which highlights the fundamental differences between the two parties' standards and requirements.

While European producers must safeguard the security and hygiene of products through the entire food chain, US producers use chemicals such as chlorine dioxide at the end of the production chain to kill pathogens in poultry meat; a measure that the study says is both cost-effective and hazardous.

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