NGO warns that regulations for harmful pesticides would be weakened by policy proposed in a transatlantic trade agreement

The Guardian
by Elizabeth Grossman

Source: Don McCullough

International trade agreement proposals could roll back protections from harmful pesticides in the US and EU, according to a new report (pdf) expected to be released Wednesday.

As part of the transatlantic trade agreement being negotiated behind closed doors, trade groups have recommended policies – under the banner of lifting trade barriers – that could impact pesticide regulations in both the US and the European Union. The proposals put forward by CropLife America and the European Crop Protection Association would reduce protection compared to the more stringent pesticide standards already in place in the EU and in individual US states, said the Center for International Environmental Law, or Ciel.

“If adopted, these recommendations will thwart pesticide regulation that is vital for protecting workers, consumers and communities,” said Erica Smith, the report’s lead author.

Advocates for the US organic food business believe such a policy could jeopardize the value of their products. In 2013, US sales of organic food products were $35.1bn, up more than 11% from 2012 and worth nearly three times more than US agricultural exports to the EU.

In the EU, as well as in individual EU member countries and US states, the industry recommendations would relax regulations and standards that protect health and the environment, Smith said. “The pretext of ‘regulatory convergence’ and ‘regulatory cooperation’ [is] industry jargon for adopting the lowest common denominator”, Smith said.

CropLife America and ECPA – trade associations representing major agricultural chemical manufacturers, including BASF, BayerCrop Science, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Crop Protection, Monsanto and Syngenta Crop Protection – claim the policy would help eliminate or reduce barriers to trade and promote regulatory cooperation in keeping with the goals of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The groups recommend adopting the US system of chemical risk assessment that, in Ciel’s analysis, allows the use of at least 82 pesticides currently banned in the EU. Among these are pesticides recognized as carcinogens, developmental toxins and suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Debbie Barker, international director at the Center for Food Safety, said the recommended policy’s risk-assessment-based approachruns “counter to the EU’s precautionary principle approach toward agricultural pesticide approvals”. Adopting the risk-based approach, Barker said, “would result in a downward spiral of safeguards vis-à-vis agricultural chemicals currently in place in the EU”.

CropLife America, however, said its proposed policy “will ensure the highest levels of consumer and environmental protection while promoting international trade, creating jobs and enhancing social and economic viability”. It noted that a proposed EU policy restricting endocrine disrupters could block more than $4bn, or 40%, of US agricultural exports to the EU.

In addition, the industry proposal recommends that the maximum levels of pesticide residues allowed on food conform to those permitted in the US. In some cases, these levels are hundreds of times higher than those currently allowed in the EU, according to the report.

The proposal could, according to Ciel, interfere with current moratoriums by the EU and some US local governments on use of the neonicotinoid pesticides thought to be contributing to worldwide bee population declines. Poor pollinator health is already negatively impacting farmers worldwide, said Jim Kleinschmit, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Climate and Energy Initiatives.

The CropLife America-ECPA proposal also called for an international confidential business information policy that Cielsaid could interfere with public health protections and development of safer chemicals. Such a policy could also make it harder to ensure products are free from pesticides, said Robert Anderson, senior trade adviser at the Organic Trade Association. “How do you test for it if you don’t know what it is?” .

That an international trade agreement could change so many existing regulations would be “unprecedented,” said report co-author and Ciel senior attorney Baskut Tuncak.

“Some will argue that this will provide some people will the opportunity to sell more into the EU,” said US Congressional Representative Chellie Pingree of the industry proposal. But, she said: “That will be agribusiness giants, not farm families, who are selling organic products, antibiotic-free meat, GMO-labeled products.”

Adds Pingree, a member of the Congressional Appropriations Committee and subcommittee on agricultural appropriations, this proposal is “counter what American consumers are saying by way of their purchases that they want”.

Because the negotiations are secret, it’s unclear if this proposal is being considered by the TTIP negotiators. Neither the US trade representative’s office nor the European Commission responded to a question about whether it was being discussed.

The next round of TTIP talks are scheduled for early February in Brussels.

Elizabeth Grossman is a freelance journalist who covers environment, science, occupational health and related policy issues.

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