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EU-US trade deal threat to food safety

The launch of EU-US negotiations on a new trade deal should set alarm bells ringing for food producers and consumers throughout Europe. If successful the deal will sweep away environmental, health, privacy and cultural standards.

For decades, these have given a measure of protection to the European food industry from incursion by the predominantly US-based global agri-business corporations.

no planet BThe talks are intended to promote growth by eliminating all trade tariffs and “harmonising” regulations which act as barriers to trade. The G8 announcement of the July 8 start of talks sees the two parties aiming to sign the deal by the end of 2014.

The launch of the new deal – a second-best attempt at the failed World Trade Organisation’s Doha trade talks – will be seen as a direct response to the mounting anger against profit-driven food production manifested in the two million strong worldwide march against Monsanto in hundreds of cities in 52 countries last month.

The ConDem government, in a coalition with lobbyists for the biotech companies, is spearheading the corporations’ campaign.

Britain’s science minister, David Willetts and environment secretary Owen Paterson are pushing for EU controls on new genetically-modified crops and food to be relaxed. Willetts, who has been heavily lobbied by GM campaigners and scientists funded by the GM industry, insists biotech crops could feed the world.

Eight European governments have banned cultivation of a Monsanto GM maize called MON 810, which is genetically modified to kill pests which feed on it, on the basis it might cause harm to other important insects. The eight are Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and most recently Poland, while Italy said it plans to follow suit.

As a result, Monsanto says it has effectively given up on lobbying for approval for new GM crops to be grown in Europe, though it is certain to be active in the negotiations for the new bilateral deal.

The ban on the maize and other forms of GM has been made under an EU environmental protection provision known as the “Safeguard Clause”. Even so large quantities of GM soya and maize are imported into Europe, including Britain, entering the food chain as animal feed.  

Monsanto’s bid for domination of the global food chain received a major setback in May, when Japan and parts of South Korea banned US wheat imports after the discovery of a unlicensed genetically-modified crop growing in Oregon. The corporation is now facing a class action lawsuit from farmers in the state.

The company is, however, celebrating its defence of patents – intellectual copyright controls over food – in a court victory against farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman. Having bought Roundup-ready soybean seeds, he had the temerity and ingenuity to find a way, he thought, of bypassing the company’s patent. This would have allowed him to reinstate ancient farming practices and replant the seed he’d grown. No such luck.

But no court action, worldwide protests, nor import bans will be sufficient to stop Monsanto in its tracks. Monsanto, producer of the infamous Roundup herbicide, has been in this sordid business for decades, originally with its manufacture of PCBs and Agent Orange, as well as Bovine Growth Hormone, banned in Europe.

Since 2011 it has been advising US farmers to engage in an arms race to protect their crops, using a cocktail of their pesticides when Roundup resistant “superweed” mutants developed and infested millions of acres of farmland.   

Meanwhile radical alternatives are beginning to emerge. Following a showing of The World According to Monsanto film in a quiet rural Welsh pub, organised by the local Transition Town group, the audience, including farmers, unanimously voted for a proposal to set up a country-wide, not-for-profit seed co-operative. It’s the way to go!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
19 June 2013

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