Buying British Food and EU-US trade deal: Why you can’t have both, Mr Cameron
By Elsa Buchanan
David Cameron’s reshuffled government should be applauded for outlining a £400 million plan last week to boost the central government to buy fresh, locally sourced, seasonal British food.
“Our long-term economic plan is all about backing the do-ers and the hard-workers – and no one does more or works as hard in Britain today than our farmers. By opening up these contracts, we can help them create more jobs, invest in their businesses and make sure people in our country have a healthier lifestyle,” a chirpy Cameron told the media as he unveiled his plans.
But the Prime Minister is accused of hypocrisy for simultaneously supporting a bigger, bolder, all-encompassing ‘opportunity of a life-time’ deal between the European Union and the US, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
In the absence of any public consultation – the sixth round of negotiations are being held behind closed doors in Brussels by US and EU representatives – campaigners are basing themselves on leaks and similar US trade agreements.
But when deliberations are completed, the controversial TTIP is expected to bypass national judiciaries, encourage deregulation, liberalise almost every public service and get rid of supposed ‘barriers to investment’, which the World Development Movement (WDM) describes as “environmental protection, workers’ rights legislation and food safety standards”.
“It is about hardwiring ‘free market’ principles into society – even creating parallel legal systems to make states accountable to corporations rather than vice versa,” explains Nick Dearden, director of the WDM, the UK-based campaigning organisation.
A TTIP legal clause, known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), could give more than 75,000 multinational corporations unprecedented powers to shape national legislation, especially one akin to Cameron’s hyped local food sourcing plan.
“The food sourcing plan is just one of many things that the government will no longer be able to do, or will have huge difficulties doing, if the trade deal goes through,” explains Alex Scrivener, policy officer at the WDM.
“Essentially, the TTIP is binding the hands of democracies. So governments will no longer be able to make decisions on legitimate areas of public policy, for example, certain aspects such as health services or asking government departments to buy local food.”
Chlorine chicken on UK shelves
Against this background, British farmers and producers will struggle to see any impact from the largely publicised local food-sourcing plan, Scrivener says. Worse, they will be directly competing with giant American multinationals, instead of having priority on the government’s shopping list.
“The government will no longer be able to favour European produce or British, local produce over big American multinationals,” Scrivener explains.
For Scrivener, the TTIP could indeed result in profits – which will inevitably go directly into multinational corporate behemoths’ pockets – but UK consumers will face lower safeguards on food.
The problem is that European farms are smaller and far less intensive than their American counterparts, making it almost impossible to compete against, and face an altogether different set of food and safety regulations and more difficulties tracing food origins accurately.
“In the US, for example, farmers can use hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed or treated meat and genetically modified (GM) food to a much greater extent than they can in Europe. Hormone-treated beef is illegal in the European Union,” the policy officer highlights.
“Our producers here don’t want to use these techniques, so won’t be able to compete against people using bigger and more industrial, less healthy practices in food production.”
He adds: “Under this agreement, there is a risk these products, including antibiotics or anything that is illegal in the UK and EU but legal in the US, will find itself on our supermarket shelves here in the UK and across Europe.”
“We’ll be eating food that is less healthy, food that has been tainted by hormones.”
That said, Cameron insists the deal “could add as much as a £100 billion to the EU economy, £80 billion to the U.S. economy, and as much as £85 billion to the rest of the world”.
In June last year, he even told the 39th G8 Summit: “We should be clear about what these numbers could really mean: two million extra jobs, more choice and lower prices in our shops.”
However, leading researchers on the deal have said the economic case for the EU-US trade deal is “deeply flawed”. Dr Gabriel Siles-Brügge from the University of Manchester and Dr Ferdi De Ville from Ghent University in Belgium, last year claimed the analysis on which the claims are based is misleading.
“It’s an overly optimistic view coloured by the political imperatives of the likes of the European Commission and certain member state governments,” Siles-Brügge then said.