CSPI International
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Diet & Health/Food Labelling & AdvertisingFunctional FoodsFood Safety StandardsIACFOCodex Alimentarius CommissionWorld Trade OrganizationNAFTAGeneration ExcessSafe Food International

May 27, 1999

Ms. Gloria Blue
Executive Secretary
Trade Policy Staff Committee
Office of the United States Trade Representative
Room 122
600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20508

Re: Request for Public Comment Regarding Negotiations on Market Access and Other Issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Under the Free Trade Area of the Americas

Dear Ms. Blue:

   The Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”) submits these written comments in response to the notice published in the Federal Register on April 14, 1999.

   CSPI believes that the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (“SPS Agreement”) threatens the safety of food consumed in the United States and, accordingly, urges that the SPS Agreement be renegotiated.

   The SPS Agreement relies heavily on the food safety standards, recommendations and guidelines set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (“Codex”). In many cases, however, the United States has not been able to persuade Codex to adopt its positions. For example, over the objection of the United States, Codex:

  • adopted (by a vote of 33 to 31 with 10 abstentions) an international safety standard for natural mineral waters that permits higher levels of lead and other contaminants than the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) now allows;
  • adopted (by a vote of 46 to 16 with seven abstentions) an international standard for food safety inspection systems that permits self-evaluation by the industry or nongovernmental third-party inspections even though in the United States such food safety inspections are the responsibility of the Federal and State governments; and,
  • is poised next month to approve dairy standards that do not mandate the pasteurization of cheese.
   Furthermore, as explained in more detail in the attached January 22, 1999 comment that CSPI filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), the proposed Codex General Standard for Food Additives lists numerous additives that pose safety concerns and are not approved for use in the United States. Codex action on the proposed standard is pending. For these reasons, we believe Article 3.3 of the SPS Agreement must be changed to limit reliance on Codex. We specifically recommend that the reference to Codex “guidelines or recommendations” be deleted from this section.

   There are at least two other specific Articles of the SPS Agreement that should be changed because they jeopardize food safety. First, the USDA is apparently unable to implement Article 4 of the SPS agreement -- dealing with the equivalency of a foreign inspection system. The attached comment filed by CSPI with the USDA on May 11, 1999 shows that the USDA has been permitting imports of meat and poultry even though the USDA is unable to determine whether any foreign meat and poultry inspection system provides a level of safety from deadly salmonella that is equivalent to the system now required for United States producers.

   Second, at the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (“TACD”) held in Brussels, Belgium in April 1999, CSPI and other consumer groups from the United States and the European Union approved a resolution on the “precautionary principle” calling for an amendment to Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement. Attached are a copy of the resolution and letters that CSPI sent on May 6, 1999 to USDA Secretary Glickman and FDA Commissioner Henney asking what actions they will take to comply with this and other resolutions dealing with food that the TACD adopted.

   Also attached is a copy of a paper on the impact of the SPS Agreement on food safety that was delivered on January 25, 1999 at a conference sponsored by the National Research Council.

Respectfully submitted,

Bruce Silverglade
Director of Legal Affairs

Benjamin Cohen
Senior Staff Attorney