GM Free Cymru

GM Enforcers in dark suits:

How US diplomatic thugs force other nations to lower biosafety standards and accept GM imports

A truly terrifying expose of how the USA uses diplomacy and political pressure, combined with the Free Trade Agreement mechanism, to force other countries to lower food safety standards and to amend their own rules on GM approvals and labelling, so as to facilitate the flooding of the market with GM products from the USA. This part of the article relates specifically to GM products. On the website there are some interesting links to other articles on this topic.

Extract from a longer article in "Foreign Policy in Focus" by Christine Ahn and GRAIN

GM Food

The Bush administration's attack on Korea's food safety standards was orchestrated through a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). In a reported swap for Seoul easing its rules of origin for U.S. textile exports, Korea agreed to lower its domestic biosafety standards. The deal, signed on the sidelines of the final round of U.S.-Korea FTA negotiations in late March 2007, is called the U.S.-Korea "Memorandum of Understanding on Agricultural Biotechnology." Immediately hailed as a great breakthrough by the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, the agreement took Koreans by surprise, generating angry reactions in the formal political arena, in the mass media, and on the streets..

The U.S.-Korea ag-biotech agreement obliges Korea to restrict its risk assessment of imported GM products for food, feed, or processing to their "intended" use. In other words, if local farmers sow GM maize kernels from the United States that were meant for cooking, the U.S. companies responsible for the transfer of the kernels are free of any liability. This is precisely how Mexico's indigenous maize crop got contaminated. The agreement also commits Korea to act on its GM labeling laws in a "predictable" manner. This common aspect of most U.S. FTAs, which goes under the misleading label of "transparency," in fact grants Washington the right to meddle in policy decisions in Seoul. Finally, Korea's implementation of the UN Biosafety Protocol, which the United States refuses to sign, is bound to the terms of this bilateral agreement with Washington. In this case, as in other FTAs, the United States is exempt from the Protocol's documentation requirements for the entry of GM crops.

With the ink on the agreement barely dry, American GM crops began to penetrate Korea's food supply. Until recently, Korean GM laws, particularly the rules on labeling, had essentially shut GM imports out of the country's food supply, except for some use in animal feed, soybean oil, and soy sauce (the latter two products deemed exempt from mandatory labeling requirements because their production processes are said to remove the GM proteins). But in February 2008, less than a year after the signing of the ag-biotech agreement and just three months after Korea ratified and brought into force the Biosafety Protocol, the Korean Corn Processing Industry Association purchased 697,000 metric tons of U.S. GM maize for shipment between April–August 2008: the first major shipment of GM maize destined for food use to arrive in Korea since the adoption of the GM labeling law in 2000. Similarly, Korean approvals of GM imports have skyrocketed since the U.S. agreement. By January 10, 2008, there were 58 living modified organisms (LMOs) approved for import as feed or food into Korea. One month later, the number had nearly doubled: 102 approvals, 70% of them from U.S. firms (Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow).

Korea is not the first country to cede its sovereign right to control biotech foods under pressure from U.S. corporations in bilateral negotiations. India and China both backed down from GM import restrictions after bilateral "discussions" with the United States. Thailand pulled back from strict GM labeling legislation in 2004 when the United States warned that the legislation would affect their FTA negotiations. More recently, U.S. corporations have called on the U.S. government to use the proposed FTA with Thailand to force it to start allowing for field testing of GMOs. The same goes for Malaysia, where U.S. corporations want the Malaysian government to back down from consideration of mandatory labeling of GM products as a prerequisite for the proposed U.S.-Malaysia FTA. ,

Battle for Food Sovereignty

The use of bilateral free trade agreements to rig food safety standards in favor of a rapidly concentrating global food industry is cause for concern -- all the more so during a deepening world food crisis. To most people, food safety should have something to do with health, as well as cultural prerogatives. That agenda, however, has been hijacked. As tariffs and quotas are torn down under the mantra of trade liberalization, food safety is becoming a major offensive tool for industrial titans like the United States or Europe to not only get market access for exports but to reduce competition from imports (in the absence of tariff and quotas).

Equivalence, which all WTO members are supposed to implement, between different countries' food safety standards doesn't mean harmonizing up to higher standards. It means equivalence with those of the more powerful country, which frequently means harmonizing down to the lowest common denominator. The U.S.-Korea FTA bears this out dramatically.

Sad to say, food safety has become a bargaining chip in the struggle for corporate control. This raises an important challenge for the food sovereignty movement. Aside from some boycotts and recalls, real decision-making on food safety standards is not in the hands of ordinary people or even competent regulators. Instead, food safety is determined more and more in corporate boardrooms and trade negotiations. Perhaps the lessons being learned from different experiences fighting FTAs in different countries will lead to stronger campaigns to regain control over the issue of food safety within the larger battle for real food sovereignty.