They put what in my food? TPP and food safety threats

ST. PAUL, Minn. (PAI and Workday Minnesota) — What does the Minnesota State Fair bring to mind? Food! So, what better place to alert people to the food safety threats posed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest “free trade” deal the administration is negotiating?

That’s what the Communications Workers and the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition thought when they seized the opportunity on Sept. 1 to hand out fliers to fairgoers passing by the AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion and unfurling a banner reading, “They put WHAT in my food?”

Americans, particularly workers, have many reasons to be alarmed about the impact of the TPP if Congress approves it. The trade deal would cost jobs, extend patents that would raise the cost of medical care and degrade labor conditions and the environment, says to the Citizens Trade Campaign, a national coalition of labor, farm and community groups.

At the “Great Minnesota Get Together,” where visitors were searching out their favorite snacks, Richard Shorter, CWA staff representative and co-organizer of the event, distributed information and struck up conversations to “get people in the mindset to start questioning free trade and where their food actually comes from…because everyone wants to have safe food. That’s our message to all of the people walking around.”

As CWA Local 7200 member Tom Laabs passed out fliers, he posed a question about the TPP: “If it’s so good, why is it secret? It could affect our food standards and labeling in the future, so it’s a big concern of mine and I’m sure a lot of people would be concerned if they knew what was going on.”

There’s a reason most people don’t know much about the TPP.

Representatives of corporations, including big agribusiness firms, and the governments of the 12 participating countries have hammered out the trade deal behind closed doors, while the text of the agreement has not been released to the public. Even lawmakers have only been permitted to read a heavily redacted version, with a third of the text reportedly blanked out.

But portions of the agreement that have been leaked and gleaned from reports to corporate organizations do not bode well for workers or consumers. “If the TPP becomes law, it would require us to import meat and poultry that do not meet U.S. safety standards,” said Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition Interim Director Kaela Berg.

In a survey, “73 percent of us said there should be more oversight of food safety, not less. And nearly all of us, 93 percent, say the federal government should require labels on food saying whether it has been genetically modified or bio-engineered. The TPP will consider food labeling a trade barrier and the labels will disappear. We won’t know where our food comes from…Will more of us get sick?” Berg added.

Berg noted consumer concerns about health and the environment have significantly changed American food buying habits and the way groceries stock their shelves. “However, the TPP would allow corporations to challenge laws, essentially setting their own standards for food inspections. The long history of food safety standards here in the U.S. would wither.”

As secret international negotiations continue and a congressional vote on the trade deal approaches, activists are stepping up efforts to tell the public that the relatively underreported TPP is “a really big deal” and motivate them to contact their lawmakers about their concerns.

As a mother and grandmother, CWA Local 7200 member Christina Hollie was so disturbed about the TPP’s health implications that she volunteered to leaflet at the state fair.

“Right now, we know that less than 1 percent of our seafood is checked for safety. Yet, we are looking at having more food come through the country without any additional safety standards,” further overwhelming inspectors with more products, some such as Malaysian shellfish, with known health issues, she explained.

“It’s an important issue that’s going to affect everyone. We’ve been talking about this issue for over three years now…we are feeling like there is still groundwork that needs to be done” in educating consumers about the TPP’s implications on our food, Hollie said.

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Photo: Fair Trade Now


Randy Croce
Randy Croce

Randy Croce is on the staff of the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service. Croce has been doing documentary work since 1976, initially as a still photographer, then in video, focusing first on American Indian communities. He has been a video producer at LES since 1990, where he researches, shoots and edits various programs and teaches media and labor history classes. He is a member of IATSE Local 219 and has been active on University of Minnesota governance committees. One of his special interests has been past and current immigration. Randy's documentary about Italian immigrant stonecutters, "If Stone Could Speak," was broadcast by Twin Cities Public Television and has been screened nationally.