Is US 'chlorinated chicken' and GM food headed to the EU?
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Chicken washed in chlorine, meat treated with artificial beef hormones and a host of genetically modified crops – all of these could be making their way into European supermarkets under a free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and EU.
That is at least according to critics of the deal, known as both TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), particularly in France, where concerns over agriculture and food safety have topped a long list of objections to the agreement.
This week, a video appeared online showing people dressed as chickens taking a dip in public swimming pools. Put together by France’s Front de Gauche, a far-left political coalition, it was intended to show how chickens in the US are “washed in chlorinated water”.
The free trade agreement will “soon allow chicken washed in bleach to appear on our plates”, said the video.
The deal seeks to create a vast free trade zone that would account for around a third of world trade.
It would see the lowering of trade barriers to make it easier and cheaper for US and EU businesses to sell goods in each others’ territories.
To do this the two sides will need to agree on a common set of regulations on issues such as product safety and quality standards – essentially meaning that goods declared fit for sale in the US can be sold in the EU without further scrutiny and vice versa.
The EU currently has much more stringent rules on food safety than the US, where practices such as using a chlorine wash to kill pathogens on chicken carcasses and feeding cattle with beef hormones are common place.
The US also allows a far greater range of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be used in food production.
If the trade agreement goes ahead, these products could all be legally sold in EU member states, say critics.
The EU has sought to reassure its citizens that this will not be the case, saying that “basic laws, like those relating to GMOs or which are there to protect human life and health, animal health and welfare, or environment and consumer interests will not be part of the negotiations”.
But many, including campaign groups and political parties, are not convinced.
Earlier this month, French MEPs Yannick Jadot and Michèle Rivasi of the EELV green party published a stinging attack on the free trade deal.
“The US agenda in the negotiations is very clear,” they said. “Our plates are to be filled with GMOs, chlorinated poultry or meat from cloned animals, beef injected with hormones, while our shelves are to be filled with products containing chemical molecules with unknown effects on health.
“This opens the door to products with unknown dangers, and consumers will be the guinea pigs.”
American corporations have made their annoyance at EU food regulations well known in the past and have suggested they see their removal under TTIP as something of a formality.
“The EU has many unwarranted non-tariff trade barriers that severely limit or prohibit the export of certain US agricultural products to the EU,” said a collection of US poultry and egg associations in a statement last year.
“When TTIP negotiations are successfully concluded, US poultry producers look forward to marketing over $500 million of products to the EU on an annual basis.”
Right and left united in opposition
Fears over food safety, as well as myriad other issues including more competition for local producers, plans to allow businesses to be involved in the regulatory process and concerns over national sovereignty have led to stern opposition from numerous quarters.
Anger at the proposed deal has even succeeded in uniting parties on both the left and right, who normally find little to agree on.
In France, the far-right National Front has joined the far-left and green parties in opposing the deal.
Its leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she will seek to form an alliance with parties on the left to block the trade deal in the European Parliament, where populist parties are expected to make significant gains in this month’s elections.
"Take the transatlantic trade deal: parts of the left are against it, the Eurosceptics are against it - it will be very tight," she told Reuters this week. "Will (the European Commission) risk seeing a project as important as that being rejected, or will they put it on the back-burner?"
However, the EU argues the trade deal would be of huge economic benefit to member states and consumers.
“Getting rid of tariffs and other barriers to trade will enable European producers to sell more to the Americans: that is good for business and good for jobs,” it says.
“Removing EU barriers to US products and investment will mean more choice and lower prices for people here in Europe.”
The EU says the 28-member bloc’s economy could benefit by €119 billion a year, while the US could gain €95 billion.
Europe’s leaders seem determined to make the deal happen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the agreement “simply necessary”, while French President François Hollande has called for the negotiations to be concluded as quickly as possible.
"We have everything to gain from moving ahead quickly. Otherwise, we know there would be a pileup of fears, of threats, of anxiety," he said in February. "So, if we act in good faith, if we are all respectful of the other party's position, if we want growth, we can move quickly."