Perrone and Johnson: Food safety, local agriculture at risk if Congress passes TPP

Perrone and Johnson: Food safety, local agriculture at risk if Congress passes TPP

by Marc Perrone and Roger Johnson on April 27, 2016

Do you care about the quality of your food and where it comes from? If you do, and you should, it is time to be concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The TPP, like other trade deals before it, is being sold as a boon to the American agricultural industry. But the real track record of these agreements tells a different story. In reality, the Pacific trade pact represents a major, ongoing threat to American food processing workers, family farmers, ranchers, fisherman and consumers.

Nearly every trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has promised to stimulate the U.S. agricultural industry. The unfortunate truth of these agreements is that they flood American grocery stores with cheap and low standard foreign meat imports. Not only is this bad for our families, it puts U.S. farmers, ranchers and workers at a significant disadvantage as they struggle to compete with countries who pay workers mere pennies per hour.

The growth of live cattle and meat imports brought by trade is especially dangerous to the U.S. beef sector. The beef market is more fragile than others because the biology of a cow demands 39 months from conception to slaughter. By flooding the market with unexpected imports, the historical ebb and flow of this cycle is disrupted, harming both U.S. ranchers who raise and sell cattle and plants who process beef. Just since NAFTA passed, 50 beef processing plants have closed, costing our country thousands of high paying jobs with good benefits that were often located in rural communities.

If the TPP passes, we will be forced to accept even more live cattle and foreign beef imports. This will hinder the ability of ranchers to rebuild the U.S. cattle herd, resulting in continued plant closings and the loss of even more good jobs.

In addition to the loss of jobs, U.S. consumers could also be faced with a major loss of appetite. The TPP would increase food imports from countries like Malaysia who have notoriously lax safety standards. And unfortunately, avoiding food imports of questionable origin may not be so simple.

A prime example of this threat happened recently when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the U.S. must forego country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat or pay more than $1 billion in penalties to Canada and Mexico.

The WTO ruling claimed that by telling U.S. consumers where their food comes from so that they can make informed choices about what they eat, meat products from Canada and Mexico were being unfairly discriminated against.

As a result of the WTO sanctions, Congress repealed COOL, so consumers no longer have easy access to information about where their beef or pork came from.

The WTO’s decision perfectly illustrates how global trade agreements like the TPP can quickly put the profits of global corporations above the protection of consumers and more importantly, above American law. In this case, Congress rolled back this once-celebrated law to avoid fines, effectively forcing people to buy meat of unknown origins simply to enhance the profits of foreign corporations.

It is inexplicable how any elected official, whether Democrat or Republican, can support the TPP when it so clearly puts American jobs and our food supply at risk. With these facts in mind, we hope every member of Congress will oppose this dangerous trade agreement. The American agricultural industry and the millions of consumers who rely upon it to feed their families deserve better than the TPP trade deal.