Food, agriculture and trade deals

Agriculture and food safety have traditionally played a key role in trade discussions, and have been thorny issues in particular at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

One particular concern is that trade agreements might reduce food safety standards for citizens, with the agribusiness sector pressuring the EU to open up its markets to industrially-produced foods currently prohibited or restricted in the EU.

The combination of weakening food standards and reducing import tariffs would not only expose consumers to health risks. The resulting price competition would also severely damage many farming and food sectors in the EU. The losers are likely to be citizens, farmers, workers in the food and farming sector, rural communities and the environment.

Import of cheap raw materials often harms regional farming sectors that follow EU food safety rules and European citizens’ demands for higher quality. Frequent attempts to bypass agreed EU food safety standards increase costs for the food sector and undermine the consumers’ right of transparency.
Two concrete examples:
1. The strict prohibition to contaminate food and feed with non-authorised genetically modified (GM) substances in the EU, jeopardised by trade politicians
2. Attempts to increase pesticide thresholds to comply with so called international standards that are often weaker than EU requirements. Main beneficiaries are global commodities traders and food processors.

Main controversies

Farming is much more than producing raw materials for the food sector. It is crucial for vibrant rural areas, it means having a proper and to a certain degree independent food production, it has a key role in protecting nature. For these reasons, countries all over the world have special rules to protect domestic farming, e.g. via certain tariffs to protect vulnerable sectors. Thus, the focus of various trade deals on prices and increased trade of food and farming products is detrimental to most roles of the farming sector. Various studies (e.g. by Friends of the Earth Europe and the European Commission) concluded that opening the EU for more imports could put the existence of whole farm sectors at risk.

Trade negotiators and lobby groups often see domestic or EU rules for food safety as trade barriers, e.g. criticising labelling laws because they would limit the demand for GM food in the EU. In fact, these rules were created to empower citizens to take well informed food choices. Giving in to these critics would mean sacrificing democratically agreed standards so that a handful of corporations can maximise their profits - at the expense of citizens, nature and farmers.

At international level the EU is the biggest importer as well as exporter of agriculture products and food. Any change in our trade and agriculture policy has therefore big and direct impacts on producers and citizens in other countries. Friends of the Earth Europe proposes to rewrite the export-oriented agriculture policy and focus more on regional food cycles.

Power shift to trade officials

Trade deals like TTIP and CETA suggest shifting decisions on food safety to new trade committees and away from national and European decision makers, while also reducing countries' rights to inspect food and agricultural imports at the port of entry – up to now, a key measure to safeguard public health.

These shifts would make the EU and US increasingly accept international, generally weaker, food safety standards and expose the public to more food scandals and pollution. They would also undermine local or regional powers to set higher standards, such as banning GM crops or restricting antibiotic use in factory farming.

What is our vision?

Our aim is a sustainable trade policy that ensures a fair income and decent conditions for workers, and grants access to high quality products for all citizens. Trade policies, in conjunction with food and social policies, should ensure a balance between fair prices for producers and a level playing field for farmers, decent wages and access to adequate and nutritious, good quality food for all.