Carrie Steele says that food is a good place to start in our opposition to the TPPA, because we all have to eat.
“IF YOU READ, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPPA has you in its crosshairs,” said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
While New Zealanders may have given a passing thought of late as to whether or not our flag should be changed to better reflect our unique identity, most don’t seem to have used up even a single brain cell thinking about how being part of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (or TPPA) might damage the fabric of our daily lives.
More people seem to have been concerned when the recipe for Milo changed (no one cared a jot that the revamped version used sustainably sourced cocoa and palm oil), and not long before that, others were revved up because the shell of Cadbury Crème Eggs switched from Dairy Milk to standard cocoa mix. So how about the TPPA? How might that affect our unique identity, and the ability of current and future governments to maintain and protect our freedoms, our environment, our healthcare, our food supply; in fact, everything about Aotearoa as we know and love it? Not many seemed too bothered, until Saturday that is, when thousands of New Zealanders across the country donned raincoats and marched to the chant of “1234, TPPA out the door; 5678 stop it now it’s not too late”.
There are many things that worry me about the TPPA, but none more so than how being part of this agreement could affect the food on our supermarket shelves. I simply can’t envisage how GE Free NZ can find common ground in an agreement with the Unites States of America, a country determined to put GMOs on every dinner table, and to get around any personal objections to this by keeping its own citizens in the dark about what they’re eating.
I’m talking about the Legislation dubbed the ‘Deny Americans the Right to Know’, or DARK Act (H.R. 1599), which passed the House of Representatives recently, and a Senate version of the bill is likely to do the same very soon. Backed largely by House Republicans, this bill would prevent state and local authority from being able to label and regulate genetically engineered (GE) foods. The bill codifies a voluntary labelling system approach, blocks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from ever implementing mandatory GE food labelling and allows food companies to continue to make misleading “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients.
Despite the fact that the majority of Americans want to know whether the food they are eating contains genetically modified organisms, House supporters of H.R. 1599 justify their actions as a means of “keeping the rules simple”, and “not unnecessarily frightening customers”. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have already voted in GMO labelling laws. If H.R.1599 goes through, it will overturn these existing laws and prevent those states from putting the labelling laws into practice.
Those who back mandatory labelling of foods made with genetically modified crops say that the bill is a sign that the USA Grocery Manufacturers Association and biotech seed developers are aware of and concerned about the growing distrust of GMO foods, and afraid of action at state level to introduce mandatory labelling. Voting in H.R. 1599, the DARK Act, is a way for congress to effectively remove consumer choice, to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food. I’ve also many times heard this bill referred to as “Monsanto’s dream bill”: a chilling description.
Never before in the history of the world have chemical companies sought to own and control our food supply. This despite the fact that most people now know that the development of GMOs have nothing to do with feeding the world, and everything to do with a handful of big corporations gaining proprietary control of the world’s seed supply. This legislation (the DARK Act) was being introduced less than a week after the World Health Organisation said that the chemical glyphosate, commonly found in herbicides manufactured by Monsanto and Dow and used widely on GMO crops, is a “probable carcinogen.”
I think I would be speaking for all concerned New Zealanders when I say that our opposition to the TPPA is not ‘anti-America’, and I found it offensive that the US Consulate felt the need to send out a personal letter to their citizens living here that it might be best if they avoided the city today, for their own safety. What I do have a big problem with, and I think most New Zealanders would, is when a government shows time and time again that it is more interested in serving the interests of big corporations rather than its citizens. When a government takes the view that the best way to avoid any opposition, or dismiss any concern, is to keep people in the dark. Think about it, how would you feel if we had the DARK Act thrust upon us? Would you want to know if the food you were picking up off the supermarket shelves contained GMOs?
Now more than any other time is the moment for us to stand strong with our GE Free NZ stance. There is a rising tide of people worldwide who are walking away from GMOs, including a growing number of Americans who believe that the introduction of GMOs has had a disastrous effect on human health. Currently, any food on our supermarket shelves that has more than 1 percent GMO ingredients must be labelled. We have no idea whether the TPPA contains clauses that will weaken or worse even, challenge our current stance regarding labelling of GMOs and GMO crops. If food produced in the USA complies with their laws, under the TPPA are we going to be able to continue to regulate our own labelling laws, or will that be seen as creating an unlawful trade barrier? It’s hard to imagine that we will be allowed the freedom to make an educated choice, if consumers in the United States of America are not.
That’s why I marched on Saturday. I believe that there’s a lot more at stake here than most people seem to realise, and we’re not just talking about food. But that’s a good place to start, because we all have to eat. CARRIE STEELE