WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced their Fast Track trade promotion legislation (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015) that includes provisions that would weaken consumer protections, undermine U.S. food safety standards and prevent commonsense food labeling. The legislation is nearly identical to the measure Senator Hatch introduced last year that failed to garner Congressional approval. It replicates the provisions of Fast Track bills from bygone eras (in 1991 and 2002 in the buildup to NAFTA and CAFTA) and deprives Congress of its constitutionally mandated role in setting U.S. policy in a more complex international commercial landscape.
“Congress should reject this retrograde Fast Track trade legislation that is designed to usher in the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal that is a raw deal for consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The fine print in Fast Track contains an all-out attack on America’s consumer protection and food safety laws.”
The legislation dismisses the importance of food safety and consumer protection in trade negotiations, although unsafe imported foods and products have deluged consumers over the past twenty years of corporate-driven globalization. The bill specifically only allows trade negotiators to “take into account” (not “obtain” or “ensure”) the “legitimate health or safety [and] consumer interests,” relegating these safeguards to second class status behind mandatory objectives for business interests and allowing unelected trade negotiators to decide which U.S. consumer protections are “legitimate” (Sec. 2(a)(13)).
“Fast Track allows U.S. trade negotiators to trade away vital consumer safeguards to win giveaways and protections for big business in the TPP or other trade deals,” said Hauter. “The safety of American consumers is up for sale under Fast Track.”
Several provisions of the Fast Track bill would erode food safety oversight for imported food and threaten sensible food labels. Fast Track requires the United States to approve the food safety systems of exporting countries even when domestic oversight is stronger (Sec. 2(b)(3)(A)(ii)). This forced “equivalence” of foreign food safety systems can expose consumers to imported foodborne hazards and it is how the U.S. imported 2.5 million pounds of E. coli tainted ground beef from a Canadian plant that replaced most of its government safety inspectors with its own employees. Fast Track also identifies some consumer labels as “unjustified trade restrictions” that would be targeted for elimination (Sec. 2(b)(3)(I)(ii)).
“Consumers coast-to-coast are fighting for the right to know what is in the food they are feeding their families, but Fast Track would make it even harder to get commonsense food labels,” said Hauter. “This approach to trade could eliminate country of origin labeling and GMO labeling and weaken imported food inspection to satisfy the corporate interests who are writing these trade deals.”
Fast Track is being pushed to seal the TPP trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations, but the deregulation in Fast Track and the TPP could expose consumers to more dangerous imported foods. Surging imports under free trade deals have overwhelmed U.S. food safety inspectors at the border. For example, only about 2 percent of the 5.4 billion pounds of imported fish and seafood are inspected. Fish farmers in TPP nations Vietnam and Malaysia often use veterinary drugs and fungicides that are banned in the United States because the residues can cause cancer, allergic reactions and contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“The TPP will bring a tidal wave of dangerous fish imports that will swamp the border inspectors that cannot keep up with the tainted aquaculture imports today,” said Hauter. “Congress must reject the Fast Track bill that is designed to seal the deal on TPP.”