And Just Like That, “Free Trade” Pact Trounces US Law

— by Lauren McCauley,  CommonDreams staff writer


Congress’ elimination of the rule “makes clear that trade agreements can—and do—threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. (Photo: KOMUnews/cc/flickr)

Claims that trade pacts like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will not trump public health and environmental policies were revealed to be fiction on Tuesday after Congress, bending to the will of the World Trade Organization, killed the popular country-of-origin label (COOL) law.

The provision, tucked inside the omnibus budget agreement, repeals a law that required labels for certain packaged meats, which food safety and consumer groups have said is essential for consumer choice and animal welfare, as well as environmental and public health.

Congress successful revoked the mandate just over one week after the WTO ruled that the U.S. could be forced to pay $1 billion annually to its NAFTA partners, which argued that the law “accorded unfavorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock.”

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, said that consumers relied on the standard to “make informed choices about their food,” and that Congress’ elimination of the rule “makes clear that trade agreements can—and do—threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections.”

The move flies in the face of statements made by President Barack Obama, who—arguing in favor of the 12-nation TPP, pledged that “no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.”

Indeed, Wallach argues that repealing the COOL law might prove to be a “real problem for administration efforts to pass the [TPP}–which faces opposition from an unprecedentedly diverse coalition of organizations and members of Congress—because claims that trade pacts cannot harm U.S. consumer and environmental policies have been a mainstay of their campaign.”


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TPP—A Means of Surrendering Our National Sovereignty

The details are out on the the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and critics say the trade deal is worse than they feared. The TPP’s full text was released Thursday, weeks after the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations—a group representing 40 percent of the world’s economy—reached an agreement. Activists around the world have opposed the TPP, warning it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Congress now has 90 days to review the TPP before President Obama can ask for an up-or-down vote.  Take the time to learn more about this treaty and then weigh in with your representation in the Congress (both Houses) as to your thoughts.  You can find a PDF version of the actual text of the various chapters here, and a slightly more Internet-friendly glossed over-version of what proponents of the TPP want you to know on Medium.

More video:

I Guess That’s a Resounding “NO” from Rep. Amodei re: GMO Labeling

On December 6th, I sent this email to Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2):

Monsanto has just hired a prominent former senator as their top lobbyist. I want to make sure you’ll keep listening to we the people before you listen to the corporate lobbyists who will work for whomever pays them the most.

A wide variety of genetically engineered and modified foods have entered the United States’ food system in enormous amounts. But in sharp contrast to 64 other nations that require labeling of these unnatural foods, consumers in the United States are in the dark and have no way of knowing whether the products they eat and feed their families are genetically engineered, and thus have no way of preventing that genetic engineering from triggering a deadly reaction to an existing food allergy.

Americans deserve to know what companies like Monsanto are hiding in the foods we feed our families. Require labeling of GMOs now! 

Today, I got this email response:

AmodeiThank you for contacting me regarding genetically engineered (GE) foods. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.

As you may know, a GE food is one that has had its DNA modified for enhancement. Common GE modified foods include corn, wheat, and soy. Generally a GE food has been modified for faster growth, resistance to disease, additional production of nutrients or another benefit to the crop.

You may be interested to know that the government sometimes contracts with GE food producers to help produce food and strains of crop for countries suffering from drought and hunger. While I understand concern about the safety of food, there is a wide scientific consensus including studies done by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the United States Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, and many others that GE foods are no less safe than conventional foods. Forcing companies to label their food differently when it has no proven negative health or safety effects would create unnecessary regulatory burden on our nations farm and food industry. (emphasis added)

As legislation regarding the labeling or banning of GE foods is considered by the full House of Representatives, please be assured I will keep your concerns in mind. (emphasis added … yeah right … like I forgot to read the statement above where he just blew me off.)

I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to apprise me of your opinions and hope that you will contact me again should you have any further comments or concerns. If you would like additional information on my activities in the House, please visit my website, www.Amodei.house.gov or connect with me on facebook.com/MarkAmodeiNV2 and twitter.com/MarkAmodeiNV2.

In closing, please know that I consider it a privilege to serve and represent you and your family in Congress.

Sincerely,
MarkAmodeiSignature

 

These Laws Make Me Want to Gag

States are adopting laws meant to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from.

— by Will Potter

Will_Potter

Do you have a right to know where that steak on your plate came from?

Should it be legal to photograph chicken farms and dairy cows?

Big Agriculture says you don’t and it shouldn’t. Armies of Big Ag lobbyists are pushing for new state-level laws across the country to keep us all in the dark. Less restrictive versions have been law in some states since the 1980s, but the meat industry has ratcheted up a radical new campaign.

This wave of “ag-gag” bills would criminalize whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists who expose animal welfare abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Ten states considered “ag-gag” bills last year, and Iowa, Missouri, and Utah approved them. Even more are soon to follow.

imageHad these laws been in force, the Humane Society might have been prosecuted for documenting repeated animal welfare and food safety violations at Hallmark/Westland, formerly the second-largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program. Cows too sick to walk were being slaughtered and that meat was shipped to our schools, endangering our kids. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

More recently in Wyoming, video footage showed workers at a Tyson supplier kicking live piglets and pummeling mother pigs. The film led to criminal charges against nine employees, including two managers. In Pennsylvania, an investigation of a major regional egg supplier, Kreider Farms, showed decomposing birds packed into cages among the living. Other hens had their heads stuck in cage wire and were left to die.

Big Ag wants to silence whistleblowers rather than clean up its act. Ag-gag bills are now pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. Similar legislation may crop up in North Carolina and Minnesota.

The bills aren’t identical, but they share common language — sometimes even word-for-word. Some criminalize anyone who even “records an image or sound” from a factory farm. Others mandate that witnesses report abuses within a few hours, which would make it impossible for whistleblowers to secure advice and protection, or for them to document a pattern of abuses.

Indiana’s version of this cookie-cutter legislation ominously begins with the statement that farmers have the right to “engage in agricultural operations free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons.”

Yet these bills aren’t about violence or terrorism. They’re about truth-telling that’s bad for branding. For these corporations, a “terrorist” is anyone who threatens their profits by exposing inhumane practices that jeopardize consumer health.

It’s too early to tell how many of these bills stand a chance of passing. But ag-gag supporters have no shortage of wealth and political influence.

As a journalist, I’m worried about what these bills mean for freedom of the press. And the investigators and whistleblowers I have interviewed are deeply concerned about their own safety and freedom.

Ag-gag bills aren’t about silencing journalists and whistleblowers. They’re about curbing consumer access to information at a time when more and more Americans want to know where our food comes from and how it’s produced.

The problem for corporations is that when people have information, they act on it. During a recent ag-gag hearing in Indiana, one of the nation’s largest egg producers told lawmakers about a recent investigation. After an undercover video was posted online, 50 customers quickly called and stopped buying their eggs. An informed public is the biggest threat to business as usual.

An informed public is also the biggest threat to these ag-gag bills. In Wyoming, one of the bills has already failed. According to sponsors, it was abandoned in part because of negative publicity. By shining a light on these attempts, we can make sure that the rest fail as well, while protecting the right of consumers to know what they’re buying.


Will Potter is a journalist based in Washington, DC. He is the author of Green Is the New Red, which documents corporate attempts to silence environmental activists.
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