The fast track legislation could make it illegal to label “frankenfoods.”
Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio denounced a provision discretely hidden in pending trade legislation that would allow governments or corporations to sue countries or states over laws that mandate the labelling of genetically modified foods.
If approved by Congress, the legislation called Trade Promotion Authority, also known as “fast track,” would not allow Congress to amend or filibuster free trade agreements negotiated by the president and would require and up or down vote within 90 days.
“Call it the smoking gun,” said Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio. “Proof that fast track and massive free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are written by and for multinational corporations such as agriculture giant Monsanto. Instead of using trade deals as an opportunity to protect and strengthen consumer rights by joining the countries which require genetically engineered food to be labeled, this administration wants to benefit wealthy corporations at the expense of the public.”
The fast track bill would apply especially to two free trade agreements currently being negotiated by the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Pacific nations that includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The “Monsanto provision” included in the bill requires that U.S. negotiators fight for rules in trade agreements that eliminate so-called “barriers” to markets, such as the labeling of GMOs. Biotechnology companies consider that such information is unnecessary for the consumers and would have a deterrent effect on their profits, because of the numerous concerns over health and/or environment risks that people believe genetically engineered crops and foods. Currently 64 countries require genetically engineered food to be labeled, including Japan, China, Brazil, and the countries of the European Union.
Other consumer groups have echoed DeFazio’s concerns.
“At a time when Americans overwhelmingly want a right to know what they are buying and feeding their families, it is appalling that Congress would encourage stripping other countries of their right to label genetically engineered foods,” said Colin O’Neil, Director of Government Affairs at Center for Food Safety. “Each country has justifiably required the labeling of GE (genetically engineered) foods; the only thing that cannot be justified is why consumers in the US don’t have the same right to know as consumers in 64 other countries around the world.”
Earlier in April, both Senate and House committees voted to approve fast track bills to be voted on, a decision that “pleased” President Barack Obama. Most U.S. presidents have benefited from this legislative authority since its implementation in 1975, but as it regularly expires Obama has been seeking congressional renew since 2012.
Various leaks over the TPP secret negotiations have raised concerns by civil society groups. The chapter on intellectual property would grant new rights to big pharmaceutical companies to increase the cost of medicines and limit access to generic drugs – harming HIV/AIDS and cancer patients’ ability to afford life-saving medicine. It also threatens to stifle Internet access and innovation by introducing crippling new copyright rules and penalties.
A leaked chapter on the environment indicated that the TPP would also not include adequate environmental protections. Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club have also expressed concern that the TPP would allow for an increase in the exportation of liquefied natural gas and the controversial extraction process known as “fracking.” The TPP threatens consumer protections by allowing entry of imported food that does not comply with domestic safety standards.