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June 12, 2015

United States

New York—Video/Editorial, Imported Shrimp and the TPP Trade Bill

 

Food safety experts fear that secret elements in the hotly contested Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) legislation will further hamper USA government’s efforts to turn back bad seafood at the border, even as shrimp imported from Southeast Asian farms continues to turn up significant numbers of positive tests for banned antibiotics and dangerous bacteria.

 

“These trade agreements are used pretty much as a weapon to go after food safety standards,” said Patrick Woodall, of the food safety group Food and Water Watch.  “We’re concerned it is creating a kind of secret venue to challenge USA food safety standards.”

 

Food safety experts have become increasingly vocal in recent days, with the House expected to vote today (June 12, 2015) on legislation that would give President Obama broad authority to negotiate and sign the agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  At the heart of their concern is one of America’s fastest-growing delicacies: shrimp.

 

As shrimp has steadily grown in popularity, the USA food industry has become increasingly reliant on importers, many from Southeast Asia, to satisfy demand.  Federal inspectors have struggled to keep up with the volume, looking at only 3.7 percent of the farmed seafood that arrives at American ports, and taking samples from less than 1 percent for testing at a Food and Drug Administration lab.

 

And yet, with even such a small sample the inspectors are finding problems: In 2014, inspectors turned away more than 100 shipments from Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, according to numbers provided by the Food and Drug Administration.  Advocacy groups say those numbers are on the rise.

 

Critics of the proposed trade agreement involving 11 Pacific Rim countries argue it could erode the rules on what shrimp can be turned away.

 

The chief concern, said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has been leading the fight against the trade agreement, is that the trade deal could strengthen the ability of Asian shrimp importers to challenge USA restrictions as trade barriers, and leave decisions about what chemicals to ban to international arbitrators who preside over such challenges, instead of to USA inspectors.  DeLauro believes a goal of the trade deal is to pursue “equivalence” or “harmonization” between the rules in such countries as Vietnam and Malaysia—where the use of antibiotics and other pesticides are less restrictive—and those in the USA, where antibiotics in shrimp are banned.

 

“It is a code for moving to the lowest common denominator,” DeLauro said.  “Our standards will be lower.  That is what the risk is.  That is what will happen if this agreement goes into effect.  And we will have no recourse to turning this around.”

 

USA trade officials strongly dispute DeLauro’s characterization of the trade deal, saying the term “harmonization” never appears in the deal.  In fact, they said a goal of the agreement is to force importing countries to raise their standards.  In a statement to ABC News, the spokesman for the USA Trade Representative said the agreement being brokered “will help improve food safety in TPP countries by promoting the use of transparent and science based regulations.”  They say the language clarifying that goal will be available for public review once the full agreement is drafted.  “It will also include tough new customs provisions…to help us combat illegal transshipment...of seafood, and identify food safety risks before they get to our shores,” the statement said.

 

Information: For a video on this discussion, click on the link in the source below.

 

Source: ABC News.  Will Shrimp Safety Questions Pose Jumbo Problem for Trade Deal.  Matther Mosk and Brian Ross.  June 11, 2015.

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