A growing number of Europeans are speaking out against a multi-million dollar trade deal with American manufacturers that would import chemically treated U.S. produce and genetically modified crops (GMOs) to the European Union., saying that it will lower the standards for food sold in their countries.
The controversy comes in the midst of negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade pact between the U.S. and E.U. that would create a joint market of 800 million people.
The nominee for the European Union’s health chief position, for instance, pledged to oppose the trade deal on Tuesday. Vytenis Andriukaitis, a licensed physician, made his comments at his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament. “I cannot make any compromises on this issue, whether it is hormones in meat or chlorine baths for poultry,” Andriukaitis told EU lawmakers during his nomination hearing, according to Reuters. “Cultivation of GMOs is a huge problem from a philosophical point of view.”
Europeans and American trade officials have debated the use of hormones in produce since the E.U. banned the chlorine treatment — a process during which poultry is chilled in chlorine baths to destroy traces of salmonella and other bacteria — out of fear that it would cause cancer.
Activists who share Andriukaitis’ sentiments have expressed similar fear that TTIP would lower European food standards, especially since the continent has pushed to maintain what are considered the toughest regulations in the world.
“The main principle of the European food policy is a farm-to-fork approach, and you may say that is fundamentally different from what’s happening outside Europe in many places,” Cees Vermeeren of the European Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade told NPR.
For decades, Europeans have been able to keep food contamination levels down. While foodborne illnesses strike 15 percent of Americans each year, less than 1/1000th of a percent of Europeans suffer the same fate.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, however, tainted food often slips through the cracks of the food safety system, and an estimated 48 million Americans fall ill after eating contaminated food each year. In the last several years, the U.S. hasn’t made much progress improving food safety regulations to prevent these type of outbreaks.
To make matters worse, despite the growing body of research about its dangers, many poultry companies — including Foster Farms and Koch Foods — still overuse antibiotics and facilitate the development of drug-resistant “superbugs.” More than 400,000 Americans get sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food products each year. Nonetheless, only seven percent of the drugs certified for use on animals have been vetted since 2003, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it would launch the process that would guard against superbugs.
That’s why it’s likely that the E.U. will follow the lead of Mexico, Russia and other countries that have banned American imports in recent years. The use of antibiotics and high levels of contamination by way of infected waste runoff on farms may pose too great a risk to the 28-nation bloc that’s trying to keep its people healthy, despite the United States’ attempts to expand its influence.