Animal advocates decry CAFTA as deadly disaster

Animal advocates denounced the passage of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement as a “deadly disaster” for farmed animals and wildlife.

Prior to the vote, a letter signed by over 100 animal organizations was sent to every member of the House condemning DR-CAFTA. Activists charge that the agreement will lead to massive expansion of cruel and unsanitary “factory farm” agriculture. This intensive confinement industrial production system is responsible for the vast majority of pig, chicken, turkey and egg products produced in the United States, but is still uncommon in Central America.

DR-CAFTA will force member countries to eliminate tariffs and sanitary barriers on U.S. agricultural imports, allowing U.S. agribusiness to flood these countries with cheap pork, beef, chicken, eggs, turkey and dairy products. Latin American producers will be driven out of business or forced to adopt factory farm methods to remain competitive.

Animal agribusiness interests view the elimination of import tariffs as an opportunity to dramatically increase exports of beef, pork, dairy and poultry products and to undercut small farmers in Latin America who use traditional agriculture methods.

The high volumes of water used to clean these factory farms is a serious concern for both the environment and public health in areas lacking adequate water treatment facilities.

Loss of habitat for terrestrial wildlife and marine life is also a concern for activists. The region provides critical habitat to over 1,000 bird species, over 600 species of reptiles, several hundred types of mammal and countless species of insects. Marine life at risk includes sea turtles, manatees, fish, crabs, shrimp and mollusks. Even pro-DR-CAFTA U.S. trade negotiators concede the “loss of migratory bird habitat” as a side effect of the treaty.

DR-CAFTA will be a public health disaster for Latin America’s marine life. As regulatory controls are undermined, larger enterprises will move into areas previously zoned solely for small fisherman. Their use of larger nets not only catches more of the fish, it threatens marine biodiversity, sweeping up other species like sea turtles that have been left alone by small fisherman.

DR-CAFTA offers strong protections to corporate investors, including offshore oil drilling projects, but mandates no balancing increase in environmental protections. With the passage of the agreement, private corporations will be able to sue nations in international tribunals for tens of billions of dollars for refusing to allow ecologically destructive natural resource extraction projects that endanger wildlife.

The potential threat to the environment can be seen in the Harken Oil Case. As reported in the online environmental journal Grist, Harken Costa Rica Holdings, a transnational corporation with close ties to Harken Energy of Texas, obtained an agreement to drill off the coast of Costa Rica, contingent on the outcome of an environmental assessment. When it was found that the drilling would pose a serious threat to the rich marine ecosystems of the Talamanca region, the Costa Rican government decided the drilling was contrary to its environmental law, and Harken was denied the right to drill.

In response, Harken tried to bring an international suit against Costa Rica. It demanded the outrageous sum of $57 billion to compensate for profits Harken would have made from the drilling. A stipulation in the contract forced the company to taken their suit to domestic courts in Costa Rica, but had DR-CAFTA’s investor rules been in place, Harken could have bypassed the domestic court system and taken the case straight to a NAFTA-style tribunal.

With a GDP of only $38 billion, the threat alone would have forced Costa Rica to concede and settle, regardless of whether Harken would have been able to substantiate their case in the end.

Oxfam International has warned that DR-CAFTA may replicate the increased deforestation that came as a result of U.S. corn dumping on Mexico when 1.5 million small farmers were driven off their land. This led to an upsurge in tree clearing for farming and fuel. The annual rate of deforestation in Mexico rose to 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres), practically doubling the pre-NAFTA rate of 600 thousand hectares per year. Under DR-CAFTA this phenomenon is likely to be repeated with Central America’s rice farmers.

Reprinted with permission from The Activism Center at Wetlands Preserve: activism @ wetlands-preserve.org.