June­–July 2015        

TTIP threatens Irish food security

Bernard Murphy

Current EU strictures on the importing and use of genetically modified organisms, as well as seed and materials derived from them, are about to be axed, according to a proposal made by the EU Commission on the 22nd of April—this despite repeated affirmations that the Commission would never bend to US pressure to allow the entry of their GMOs into Europe, because of their proven negative effect on human health and the environment.
     The coincidence of this retrograde step, which sacrifices the interests of Irish and European farmers and consumers to the interests of the huge American agribusiness industry, with the current seventh round of TTIP negotiations in New York, is notable.
     Transnational agribusiness giants, such as Monsanto, skip comprehensive testing of genetically modified organisms that they develop for possible negative effects on agriculture and nutrition. With the complicity of the US Food and Drug Administration, they ignore expert and uncompromised scientific opinion that warns us that GMOs pose a significant threat to human health, the viability of agriculture globally, and the future of farming communities around the world.* The sole purported legal basis for the marketing of GMO foods in the United States is the FDA’s fraudulent claim that they are “generally recognised as safe.” Documents related to a legal case against the FDA reveal that the agency’s own scientists warned their superiors that GMO foods pose far greater risks than conventional ones; but their warnings went unheeded and were covered up.
     Thence the EU Commission affirms repeatedly that the importing and use of GMOs and their products, at present banned in the EU, are “off the table” in the current secretive TTIP negotiations with the United States, and that the agreement being discussed will in no case endanger food security.
     However, this lie is flatly contradicted by a proposed new EU norm that would forbid European governments to cite environmental or health concerns as reasons for prohibiting the entry of GMOs to their territories. Furthermore, any such prohibition will be overwritten by new international trading norms which are intended to overwrite, at the behest of the exporter, all discriminatory measures against such imports.
     If these norms come into force, democratic national control over GMO imports will have to be ceded to the European Food Safety Agency, whose ambiguous stance regarding GMOs has already been severely criticised in the EU Parliament.
     In other words, the power that governments have had up to now to respond to the environmental and health concerns of their citizens will be eliminated at a stroke.
     Parallel with these administrative developments, the EU Commission plans very shortly to authorise entry into its seventeen member-states of new GMOs from the United States for human and animal consumption. These new imports include varieties of maize and soya that are tolerant to particular herbicides, including the notorious glyophosphate, the basis of the weedkiller Roundup (widely used with GMO crops), which was classified recently by the World Health Organisation as a probable carcinogen, also the use of the transgenic maize NK-603, whose authorisation in 2007 by the Food and Drug Administration was controversial, given the existence of scientific data that indicates its toxicity.
     All these pest-resistant and fungicide-resistant GMOs have been developed by the agribusiness industry to control insect or fungus superplagues and weed infestation in stands of resistant GMO crops. Agrichemicals kill the weeds or insects; the GMOs are unaffected. Thus agriculture comes to depend increasingly on highly toxic agrichemicals, traces of which have been found in the tissues of protected crops destined for human and animal consumption.
     Such dangerous relaxation of European food security measures has been discussed in Brussels for some time now. But it is highly significant that this move of the Commission to modify the present EU stance on GMOs to bring it into line with American commercial considerations coincides with the seventh round of highly secretive TTIP negotiations in New York.
     This coincidence is hardly casual. Up to now the slow and rigorous EU process of authorisation for any GMO import has entailed the loss of an important market for the most important agricultural exports of the United States: soya and maize. So it is no secret that in these talks the opening of the European market to American exports of these GM materials is one of the principal goals of the American negotiators. From the standpoint of the EU Commission the relaxing of GMO controls and acceding to American demands—and of the budding European agribusiness—in this regard amounts to a good-will gesture by EU technocrats towards American commercial interests, at the expense of the European consumer and traditional agricultural industry.
     Serious health concerns, and the drastic erosion of national democracy that accompanies current hush-hush GMO discussions in Brussels, are of such grave and immediate concern to all citizens that socialists must demand that they be debated thoroughly by public representatives at both the national and the European level—and that the final decision rest with them, not with faceless EU bureaucrats.
*See Steven Druker, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth (Fairfield, Iowa: Clear River Press, 2015).

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