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Tuesday, 21 October 2014 08:09

Global Trade Pacts Now Limit US Consumer Food Information

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awtoprotestAn anti-WTO protest overseas. (Photo:fuzheado)

Public Citizen condemned a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that would prohibit mandatory country of origin labeling on meat sold in the United States. The decision by the WTO represents not just an infringement on the sovereign right of the US to determine consumer food policy, it also represents the growing number of trade agreements that allow international dismantling of national laws that might impact corporate profit.

In a news release entitled, "World Trade Organization Rules Against Popular U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labels on Which Consumers Rely," Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch commented:

“Many Americans will be shocked that the WTO can order our government to deny U.S. consumers the basic information about where their food comes from and that if the information policy is not gutted, we could face millions in sanctions every year. Today’s ruling spotlights how these so called ‘trade’ deals are packed with non-trade provisions that threaten our most basic rights, such as even knowing the source and safety of what’s on our dinner plate.”

If the US does not comply with the WTO ruling, it can be punished through trade sanctions. In the case of many free trade agreements, financial penalties can be sought by corporations in such cases for alleged loss of profits. BuzzFlash noted this growing global preemption of national laws in a recent commentary, "Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Decrease Access to Affordable Cancer Treatment." This ability of international corporations to sue countries for laws deemed not to be business friendly is called investor-state dispute settlement, and its rulings supersede laws of a country.

In terms of food and health, Public Citizen offers a couple of additional examples of WTO overruling US consumer concerns:

In May 2012, the WTO ruled against voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna labels that, by allowing consumers to choose to buy tuna caught without dolphin-killing fishing practices, have helped to dramatically reduce dolphin deaths. In April 2012, the WTO ruled against a U.S. ban on clove-, candy- and chocolate-flavored cigarettes, enacted to curb youth smoking. In each of those cases, U.S. policy changes made to comply with the WTO’s decisions also have been challenged before WTO panels similar to the one that issued today’s ruling.

As BuzzFlash has noted previously, however, the WTO and current and looming trade agreements do not only impact consumer issues. Companies can also sue before international tribunals to nullify environmental and public health protection laws.

The growing corporate victories in establishing an international judicial infrastructure that can overrule national laws and interest are, of course, being challenged. (For instance, widespread opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has emerged.) However, sensationalist coverage of ISIS and the presence of Ebola in the US muffle the calls for more public information on current and pending global trade agreements and organizations. The US public remains largely ignorant of the growing threat to local, state and national control of consumer, labor, environmental, agricultural and public health issues, among others areas subject to global trade agreements.

When it comes to trade, there is literally a new world order being assembled.  

It's corporate-friendly and relatively indifferent to the needs, health and interests of people.

This issue should be right up there in the news headlines, every day.

Then again, mainstream news sources are owned by corporations, so don't expect significant mass media coverage of these pressing concerns anytime soon.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.