Democratic lawmakers use COOL to make the case against TPP

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, May 14, 2015 - Some congressional Democrats are calling on U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to release food safety language of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership to the public, saying the agreement should do more to advance food safety concerns from countries seeking to import products into U.S. markets.

Connecticut Democrat and outspoken food safety advocate Rep. Rosa DeLauro led a press conference steps from the U.S. Capitol building Thursday saying the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be detrimental to American food safety. She said the agreement doesn't do anything to protect American consumers from food imports spurred by the agreement. Many countries in the agreement - namely Vietnam - have spotty food safety records, and she said this potential agreement might only make things worse.

Lets Talk Food

“Ambassador Froman also tells us that trade agreements present ‘additional opportunities to raise food standards at home and abroad.' That statement really is misleading at best,” DeLauro told reporters. “Trade agreements do not strengthen exporting country food safety regimes, nor do they strengthen our own system.”

DeLauro also noted that trade agreements have the potential to undermine American regulations on trade by giving other countries the opportunity to challenge U.S. economic policy that is potentially trade distorting. She even cites a current international trade dispute that further illustrated her point.

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Next week, the World Trade Organization is expected to rule on the trade compliance of the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law (COOL). Under the law, labels on muscle cuts of meat are required to disclose where the meat-producing animal was born, raised and slaughtered, a provision the WTO has previously ruled accorded unfair treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock.

“Long and the short of it, we have lost every appeal, and we are now down the last appeal in this effort,” DeLauro said, noting statements by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and House Agriculture Committee chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, that COOL repeal may occur if the U.S. loses its final WTO appeal. “Some of us fought very, very hard to get (COOL) standards put into law.”

Debbie Barker, the international director for the Center for Food Safety, expressed concern that the WTO “essentially overruled U.S. congressional authority by their ruling.” She also said that in the TPP, there is a provision allowing not just member states to sue other member states, but individual corporations to sue member states if the corporations feel that another country's policies are impeding on their profits. In the example of the current COOL dispute, this would equate to a Canadian meat retailer suing the U.S. government.

Joined at the press conference by Reps. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, DeLauro urged Froman to release the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) chapter of the TPP agreement, the completion of which is expected to be accelerated by pending congressional votes on Trade Promotion Authority. She said there is misleading information regarding the actual content of the deal's language, and the American people should have a right to know when it comes to trade details touching on food safety.

“In the documents on the USTR website, he states, ‘The agreement would ensure the ability of U.S. agencies to regulate for the protection of food safety,'” DeLauro began. “Sounds good on paper, but with closer analysis, it becomes clear that the agreement is a Trojan horse for potentially limiting or lowing our standards.”

DeLauro said if the SPS chapter of the agreement was released, it would allow the population “to decide if this trade agreement offers adequate protection for public health.”

“We need to get this right. The health of our families is on the line. There are too many unanswered questions in too many corners around the TPP which can lead to problems for public health which is why we are calling on Ambassador Froman (to) embrace transparency for once,” DeLauro implored. “Release the food safety chapter of the TPP. (The) American public (and) members of Congress have a lot at stake here, and we have the right to know.”

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