President Obama is negotiating a secret trade agreement that could allow foreign-produced food that does not meet US safety standards to reach grocery store shelves.
That’s what critics say about the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which they say also could end food labeling and restrict USDA inspection of imported food.
“Under the TPP , any U.S. food safety rule on pesticides, labeling or additives that is higher than international standards would be subject to challenge as ‘illegal trade barriers,’” a press release from the organization Public Citizen states. “The U.S. could be required to eliminate these rules and allow in the unsafe food under threat of trade sanctions.”
The TPP  is a massive deal that would lift a wide variety of trade barriers between a 12 countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru and Chile. Critics are worried because the deal was negotiated secretly  in Ottawa last year.
If members of the House or Senate want to read the document, they must sign a nondisclosure agreement that carries criminal penalties if they say what’s in it.
Why Does Obama Want to Keep TTP Secret?
Even Michael Wessel, an advisor to President Obama during 2008, is worried about the secrecy associated with the TPP.
“We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal — and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice,” Wessel wrote in an op-ed for Politico. Wessel has seen the contents of the deal but he cannot talk about them publicly because of the nondisclosure agreement.
How TPP Could Undermine Food Inspection
Public Citizen detailed how TPP could effectively gut US and Canadian Food regulations and strip the US and Canadian governments of their power to regulate imported food:
- Food imports would not have to be inspected as long as a foreign country’s government claimed its food inspection was equivalent to US standards. “These rules would effectively outsource domestic food inspection to other countries,” Public Citizen charged.
- Food labels could be branded “trade barriers” and overturned. Country of origin labels on meat and poultry, and even GMO labeling could be eliminated under TPP.
- Large amounts of seafood could be imported from countries like Malaysia and Vietnam without inspection. Public Citizen noted that high levels of contaminants have been detected in seafood from Vietnam.
- Foreign food processors would have the right to challenge US or Canadian food regulations and potentially get them overturned. Even foreign-owned processors operating on US or Canadian soil might no longer be subject to regulation and inspection.
New York Times food writer Mark Bittman said the trade deal “would certainly weaken food safety.”
“For example, more than 90 percent of our seafood is imported, a figure that includes fish that were caught domestically and sent overseas for processing before coming back in, which makes the inspection process even more complicated,” Bittman wrote. “All told, that’s more than five billion pounds of imports annually, and according to the Center for Food Safety, just 90 federal inspectors guarantee its safety. (The Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 2 percent of imported seafood.)
“By reducing restrictions on Southeast Asian imports, the TPP would allow more fish containing chemicals that are illegal in domestic aquaculture to reach our shores; by making inspections less effective, it would virtually guarantee that those chemicals make it to our tables.”
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