7 ways Trump’s NAFTA threatens our health, family farmers, animal welfare and the environment
by William Waren, senior trade analyst
Donald Trump’s plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement is a threat to efforts to create a sustainable, healthy, equitable and humane food system for all.
For decades, global corporations have pushed for international trade and investment agreements that favor unsustainable, toxic and inhumane industrial agriculture and weaken critical food safety, public health, worker safety and environmental regulations. These trade agreements are eroding public health, worker safety, local economies, animal welfare, and the resilience of the ecosystems we depend on. They also further threaten the economic viability of sustainable family farmers.
Now, negotiations on NAFTA 2.0 focus on further lowering so-called regulatory “barriers” to North American trade and investment. In the alleged interest of making trade easier, such safeguards are at greater risk of being “harmonized down” to an even lower common denominator, based on the model of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
Trump expediently attacked the TPP in his presidential campaign due to his purported concerns about the trade deficit and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Nevertheless, he apparently likes the provisions of the TPP that undercut environmental regulations.
These trade agreements are eroding public health, worker safety, local economies, animal welfare, and the resilience of the ecosystems we depend on.
Trump is responding to global corporations that have called for a rollback of environmental and public health regulations in a new NAFTA deal. Dozens of powerful corporate lobby groups ranging from the American Farm Bureau and the Corn Growers Association to DuPont Chemical and the Business Roundtable have filed public comments with the U.S. Trade Representative demanding a rollback of key public health, environmental, and other public interest regulations.
Trump’s game plan is to empower international trade tribunals with authority to impose retaliatory trade sanctions such as higher tariffs on the exports of countries that fail to roll back existing regulations. In addition, regulatory review provisions in Trump’s NAFTA are likely to stymie the promulgation of new and improved environmental and public health regulations.
Here are seven ways Trump’s NAFTA threatens our health, family farmers, animal welfare and the environment:
- Chemical safeguards threatened.
Renegotiation of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) chapter of NAFTA on the model of the “TBT-plus” chapter of the TPP would expand the legal basis for NAFTA suits challenging chemical regulations in North America. As a result, the new NAFTA could force the rollback of effective chemical regulations in some U.S. states such as California’s Green Chemistry initiative and preclude future, more effective U.S. federal regulation of dangerous chemicals.
Scientific evidence shows that many chronic illnesses are linked to exposure to toxic chemicals.
Many cancers, learning disabilities, asthma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and fertility problems have been linked to exposure to toxic chemicals. For example, a large number of chemicals are associated with increases in breast cancer, including many found in consumer products or food. Everyday solvents such as methanol and trichloroethylene (TCE) are associated with Parkinson’s disease. Endocrine disruptors, such as BPA found in plastic and the linings of cans and other food packaging, interfere with hormones and may be associated with adverse health impacts including infertility, early puberty and breast cancer, just to name a few.
The effects on wildlife can be similarly profound. For example, synthetic chemicals are causing hormone disruption in animals as diverse as alligators, polar bears, and some species of fish, affecting their ability to reproduce. PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) used in stain repellants is a cancer-causing chemical that has been found in European dolphins, tuna, and birds like the common cormorant. The list goes on.
2. Pesticide safeguards threatened.
NAFTA 2.0 chapters on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Regulatory Cooperation could easily be used to roll back and freeze in place insecticide safeguards at a very low level, thus protecting current and future corporate profits while threatening bees and the food crops that depend on pollinators. Trade associations like CropLife America are likely to drive U.S. negotiating demands on insecticides with the assistance of manufacturers like Monsanto and Syngenta.
The goal of many such trade associations and manufacturers is to include “TBT-plus” provisions in NAFTA 2.0 that are more restrictive of protective regulations than existing NAFTA rules and tough World Trade Organization standards. The impact of a TBT-plus chapter in a new NAFTA deal could be profound, as it would limit regulators’ access to the tools they need to effectively regulate pesticides to protect human health and the environment.
For example, the new NAFTA could stymie actions at the federal level to save bees, essential to pollinating one out of three bites of food, from pollinator-toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides. It also might well undercut more limited state and local initiatives to restrict bee-killing pesticides, such as those in place in Minnesota and Maryland. Urgent, science-based restrictions on pesticides to protect human, such as state efforts to restrict chlorpyrifos, linked to learning and developmental disabilities, could also be scrapped by Trump’s NAFTA.
3. Food labeling safeguards threatened.
TBT provisions in the new NAFTA also are likely to undercut food-labeling standards. Global corporations are likely to push for a new NAFTA to undercut further consumers’ right to know what is in their food and how it was produced.
The goal of global corporations is to include “TBT-plus” provisions in NAFTA that are even more restrictive of protective regulations than standards in the current NAFTA agreement as well as World Trade Organization (WTO) standards related to technical barriers to trade.
The WTO TBT standards, for example, were in part the basis for an international tribunal ruling in a case brought by Mexico, which concluded that the voluntary U.S. dolphin-safe tuna product-labeling standard violated international trade law. Similarly, a WTO panel ruled that that the U.S. country of origin meat labeling law violated international trade law. A renegotiated NAFTA chapter on technical barriers to trade promises to be even worse than the very bad WTO and current NAFTA agreements.
4. Food safety safeguards threatened.
The provisions of the Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitarity (SPS) measures chapter in a renegotiated NAFTA are likely to make it even easier for multinational corporations to challenge food safety regulations. These fall into the categories of sanitary measures related to food safety, such as bacterial contamination.
The goal of global corporations is to include “SPS-plus” provisions that are more restrictive of protective regulations than even the overreaching restrictions in the old NAFTA agreement as well as overbroad World Trade Organization standards. In other words, NAFTA and the WTO are a threat to food safety, but a renegotiated NAFTA could very well be an even bigger threat.
A renegotiated NAFTA is likely to undercut sanitary measures that ensure that food is safe and nutritious. Such government measures are necessary because cancer and other life threatening diseases may be caused by food containing pesticide residue, heavy metals or chemicals. Death and disease may also result from food carrying viruses like the one responsible for hepatitis A, parasites like fish-borne trematodes, and bacteria like salmonella or listeria.
A renegotiated NAFTA like the TPP also might very well follow the TPP model to give foreign food exporters greater powers to challenge border inspections and substitute private food safety certifications for government inspections in many cases.
5. Animal welfare and plant health safeguards threatened
If global corporations get their way the Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitarity measures chapter in a renegotiated NAFTA also is likely to make it even easier to challenge animal welfare and plant health safeguards, which are categorized as Phyto-Sanitarity measures in trade law jargon. An SPS-plus chapter in a new NAFTA would make it even easier for Canada, the United States, and Mexico to challenge each other’s regulations protecting animals and plants. Even worse, an SPS-plus chapter in a new NAFTA would deter legislative bodies and agencies from enacting or promulgating broader and more effective laws, regulations, and enforcement actions.
As one example, a proto-typical government regulation in this area might address animal welfare issues related to massive factory farms. Most meat, poultry, eggs and dairy sold in restaurants and supermarkets in the U.S. comes from factory farms — where animals are often raised in cruel, cramped and unsanitary conditions. New protections for animal welfare that have started to address the incredibly brutal and inhumane conditions faced by animals in factory farms could be threatened by the new NAFTA. A prime example: California’s AB 1437, which stipulates that eggs sold in the state of California must come from housing systems that do not cruelly confine birds and a related ballot measure, Proposition 2, which requires that laying hens, breeding sows, and veal calves must be able to “stand up, lie down, turn around freely, and extend their limbs.” Agribusiness corporations have already unsuccessfully challenged Proposition 2 and AB 1437 in U.S. courts and may use these trade provisions to attempt to reverse these groundbreaking protections for animals from the atrocious conditions on factory farms.
6. Biotechnology safeguards threatened
Pushing new biological technologies to market before we understand their impacts on people and the environment can result in negative unintended consequences. We have seen this with the first generation of genetically engineered crops. The stakes are infinitely higher when it comes to the question of genetically engineering human beings.
Unfortunately, a renegotiated NAFTA based on the TPP model, is likely to provide new protections for biotechnology and the use of genetically modified organisms in the SPS and Intellectual Property chapters. NAFTA countries may be required to quickly approve GMO crops and products unless unreasonably high standards of scientific certainty regarding the risk to health and the environment are met. In addition, significant patent protections in the IP chapter might be provided to biotech companies.
All of this runs counter to the precautionary principle, a central tenet of sound environmental regulation that provides that deregulatory action should not be taken if the consequences are highly uncertain and potentially quite dangerous. Many forms of biotechnology threaten serious or irreversible damage to people and the environment. The lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason to block or postpone the promulgation of environmental regulations.
The techniques and field of genetic engineering are changing quickly. Synthetic biology, the next generation of genetic engineering techniques requires application of the precautionary principle, not cost-benefit analysis. Most regulations and definitions focus on transgenic technologies that take genes from one species and put them into another. But new genetic engineering and synthetic biology techniques involve artificially creating new DNA, engineering new life forms and genetically “reprogramming” existing organisms. Many companies are modifying organisms’ genomes without adding another organism’s genes using gene-silencing techniques such as RNA interference and gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR.
These new technologies present environmental and safety concerns that go beyond those of traditional GMOs. There are few safety assessments specific to these new techniques, and no sufficient regulatory oversight is in place for this swiftly moving set of new technologies. Gene-silenced apples, synthetic biology stevia and vanillin created with genetically engineered yeast, and DuPont’s CRISPR waxy corn are just a few of the new generation of GMOs making their way into food and consumer products ahead of health or environmental assessment, oversight and labeling. No one knows how these new engineered organisms will interact with naturally occurring organisms or the consequences for our health or our environment.
7. Sustainable family farms threatened.
Today’s dominant industrial food system is rapidly depleting and degrading the world’s soil, water and biodiversity, intensifying climate disruption and harming the health of farmworkers, farmers, rural communities and other vulnerable populations. Factory farming also consolidates wealth and power in the hands of global corporations and investors. By contrast, the practice of sustainable agriculture creates highly productive farming systems by tapping into farmers’ knowledge and integrating agricultural innovations developed over millennia with emerging scientific research. While industrial agriculture is chemically-intensive and biologically-simplified, sustainable family farms, particularly if they are organic, work with nature as a powerful ally, adapting to and regenerating nature’s resources.
A new NAFTA negotiated by the corporate and Wall Street friendly Trump administration poses many risks to family farmers. It will likely encourage a further growth of large-scale industrial farms. The volatility of agricultural markets is liable to accelerate, which hurts smaller farmers. Sustainable and organic farms will be at risk. Corporate control of markets and production practices will be magnified.
Now is the time to push back on Trump’s plan to renegotiate NAFTA!
Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA is a profound threat to people, the planet, and even our democracy.
Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA like other recent “trade agreements” mandates the rollback of public interest regulations and policies that have been established by democratic institutions. Unlike other international deals these so-called trade deals can be effectively enforced through a system of tribunal “arbitration” that can countermand the decisions of democratic institutions at the national, state, and local levels and in other countries. International trade tribunals, largely employing corporate trade lawyers, effectively enforce their decisions with retaliatory trade sanctions like punitive tariffs on a country’s exports or withdrawing international property rights like patent protections. In the case of investment tribunals , they can levy awards of unlimited money damages — sometimes in the billions of dollars.
Environmentalists in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are mobilizing all their resources to defeat Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA. Now is the time to organize locally, talk to neighbors and the press, and forcefully communicate to our Members of Congress. We will stop Trump’s NAFTA and resist his every other attack on the planet.
Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA is a profound threat to people, the planet, and even our democracy.