Trade treaty with Latin American countries a threat to public health

29 May 2018

Trade treaty with Latin American countries a threat to public health

The trade treaty between the EU and a number of Latin American countries, those which make up the trade association Mercosur, presents a threat to European public health. It cannot be ruled out that more 'salmonella chicken' will end up on the European consumer's plate. For this reason the treaty should be immediately rejected, argues Anne-Marie Mineur, MEP.

The symbol of resistance to the TTIP – the trade treaty with the United States – was the 'chlorine chicken'. The bird gained its name from the American practice of washing its meat in chlorine in order to neutralise any contamination. The chicken caused a commotion because this form of treatment is in conflict with EU regulations. In part due to the mass protests, the negotiations were put on the back burner, and eventually, with a fanfare and a roll of drums, President Trump took them off the stove completely and moved them to the deep freeze.

The problem is that the methods used for the production of many products outside the European Union are extremely difficult to trace back to source. The methods are often not disclosed on the product itself. The result is that only a small proportion is recognised at the EU border as not meeting our strict requirements. In addition, not all imported products are checked in the laboratory by bodies such as the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, the NVWA. In the case of chicken the proportion is barely 20%. Or, to put it another way, four out of five South American chickens land on your plate without any checks having being carried out. Concluding far-reaching trade treaties with countries which we know have much lower standards than our own is therefore an extremely risky practice.

This is particularly true in the case of the trade treaty with the Mercosur countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Food safety standards and oversight in Mercosur countries are far inferior to those in the EU, and and meat from hormone fed animals is allowed on to the market there. Moreover, the Brazilian meat scandal, when slaughterhouses knowingly exported contaminated meat, is still fresh in the mind of the European consumer. Accordingly, there's a new enemy lurking: the salmonella chicken. Recent research from Foodwatch, an independent organisation that exposes food industry practices in conflict with the interests of consumers, has demonstrated that last year on hundreds of occasions salmonella was detected in Brazilian chicken that found its way on to the shelves of European supermarkets.

The Commission has now instituted an import ban for those businesses where abuses have been demonstrated again recently in relation to the laboratory results of salmonella tests. That is of course good news, but it doesn't entirely solve the problem. This week Brazil announced that it would fight the trade sanctions at the WTO. Moreover, it states in the EU-Mercosur treaty that once the oversight institutions in the Mercosur countries have been recognised by the European Union, the EU no longer has the right to subject to inspection firms who want to export their products. It is scarcely credible to think that the food inspection system in the Mercosur countries is suddenly well ordered just because a number of companies are put onto a sanctions list. In short, if the treaty with Mercosur goes through, the Commission's measures could still be undermined.

The Mercosur treaty also presents a threat to the environment and the climate in Latin America. Meat production in the Mercosur countries is linked to the clearing of the Amazon's tropical rain forests, the Chaco and the tropical savannah of the Cerrado. Because Mercosur countries can sell their meat at an extremely competitive price, production and export of these products will increase enormously, at the expense of small farmers in these countries who supply high quality produce.

South American meat is being admitted into the EU in exchange for a deal which gives the European car industry and financial sector access to a new market. Additional measures aimed at protecting the consumer from the import of contaminated beef and chicken are as a result politically sensitive. At this late stage of the negotiations we can expect little in this respect.

Salmonella chicken shows once again that in concluding free trade treaties the EU is prepared to put the interests of multinationals before those of people, animals and the environment. We should not be agreeing treaties with countries in which standards for the protection of workers, the environment and animal welfare are demonstrably lower, or worse still, entirely absent, and whose products are to be exported en masse to the internal market, products which present a risk to public health. The EU would therefore do well to put an end to the negotiations with Mercosur.

Anne-Marie Mineur is a Member of the European Parliament for the SP.



You are here