Chemical "Harmonization" Through Trade Agreement Could Trigger a Global Food Catastrophe

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As we reported in yesterday's edition of Government Matters, diplomats from Europe and the United States have started talks on the corporate-backed trade treaty known as the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). Though draft texts of the agreement are being kept secret from Americans and Europeans, the 2013 Technical Barriers to Trade report by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative indicates that the "harmonization" of chemical regulations to a lowest-common-denominator standard is likely to be a goal of the treaty.

American chemical manufacturers will try to use the trade agreement to weaken the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), Europe's strong chemical safety standards. This would undermine the European people's right to choose what toxic substances they want to ban from their products and the environment.

If European chemical standards are "harmonized" with weaker U.S. standards, it could overturn a recently enacted EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. This past April, 15 out of 27 European countries voted to ban the substances after several scientific studies showed the use of the poisonous chemicals to be linked with the global decline in honey bee populations. The use of this pesticide in farming leaves behind chemical residues at 700,000 times the lethal dose for bees. TAFTA may allow American chemical companies to demand the resumption of neonicotinoid use across Europe and allow corporations to sue European nations that continue ban the dangerous pesticide.

Reopening European farmland to this class of pesticides could have disastrous results for global bee populations and in turn trigger a global food catastrophe. Bees are the unsung heroes of food production across the world. While many of us associate them with their trademark product, honey, bees pollinate 80 percent of our crops, which go on to constitute one-third of our diets. The disappearance of honey bees would not only dramatically reduce production of such foods as apples, broccoli, and nuts, it would also threaten our supply of beef and dairy, since honey bees pollinate 60 percent of alfalfa production, a crucial feed source for cattle.

Already, the global bee population has declined an average of 33 percent every year since 2006. If secret TAFTA negotiations force the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on European markets, it may only serve to speed the rate of honey bee deaths and bring the world closer to the brink of a catastrophic food shortage.

Trade negotiators must recognize the threat posed by weakening chemical standards and allow the people of Europe to continue exercising their right to determine what substances they want on their farms and in their homes, products, and bodies. Failure to do so could have costly and deadly implications.

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