The role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to protect and promote public health by strengthening programs and policies governing both the safety of the U.S. food supply and accessibility to safe and effective medical products, including pharmaceutical drugs. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens to undermine the FDA’s ability to carry out that mission, in a number of important ways, as described here.
Undermine FDA food safety regulations. Draft text of the TPP chapters on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade are not available. However, it is assumed that the rules being considered under the TPP are consistent with the rules laid out in other free trade agreements (FTAs) that incorporate the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules. This would mean lowering food safety standards in participating countries, including the U.S., to the lowest common denominator in order to increase export opportunities for agribusiness. To facilitate and speed up increased trade volumes, the TPP will likely require the U.S. to allow imports of meat, poultry and seafood products that don’t meet U.S. Food safety standards.
Threaten food sovereignty. The TPP will make it more difficult for countries to adopt and maintain strong food safety regulations governing pesticides, food additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by granting so-called “life sciences” corporations unprecedented power to erect barriers to those regulations. Under past FTAs, consumer right-to-know rules requiring product labeling have been attacked and dismantled. Similar to past FTAs, the TPP will allow multinational corporations to use foreign tribunals established under the United Nations and World Bank to sue participating countries that try to enforce higher food standards. The basis for those suits, allowed under the TPP, would be loss of anticipated future profits. This is exactly what happened under the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) when the Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade sued the U.S. for banning imports of live Canadian cattle after the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Canada. The U.S. finally prevailed, but only after spending millions on a legal defense.
Increase costs for life-saving drugs. Leaked drafts of the TPP’s intellectual property chapter reveal that it would roll back reforms to U.S. trade pact drug patent policies, initiated during the George W. Bush administration, that would have increased U.S. citizens’ accessibility to affordable drugs. Worse yet, the TPP would empower drug companies to attack the medicine formulary systems that New Zealand, Australia and other developed countries have used so successfully to achieve what is ostensibly an Obama administration goal of reducing sky-high drug prices.
Precipitate global food and health crises. The food safety and drug accessibility issues raised by the TPP are expansive and controversial. The trade policies being promoted under the TPP will inhibit the ability of countries, including the U.S., to make their own decisions, based on local conditions and markets, about farming practices and the production of local, healthy food. This puts the food supplies of those countries at risk, when farming and food supplies are affected by increased energy costs or adverse weather conditions, precipitating price spikes. By limiting access to affordable drugs, the TPP further threatens the health of the populations of participating countries, especially those in developing countries. World food and health crises will have a ripple effect and, given the restrictions placed on the FDA by the TPP, ultimately have a negative impact on U.S. consumers of food and drugs.
~ Ronnie Cummins serves as Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the General Welfare Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet. This statement is one of over a dozen issued in support of the Green Shadow Cabinet’s June 17th call for action against the TPP.