Representatives Tell White House: “Modify Trade Agreement to Improve Food Safety”

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WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today applauded a letter of concern sent by Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and thirteen other House Members to U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. The letter urges the U.S. to seek changes in the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules used to resolve disputes over the safety of imported foods.

     Under the WTO’s 1994 Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), the U.S. may be forced either to weaken current food-safety regulations to comply with new international standards or to pay a penalty. The SPS Agreement directs the WTO to rely on the food-safety standards set by a United Nations-affiliated organization — the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex).

     At a recent meeting of the Codex Commission in Rome, Italy, delegates:

  • Approved pesticide residue levels that do not take into account the effects on children, as mandated under U.S. law.
  • Approved higher levels of lead and nitrates in natural mineral water than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now allows.
  • Approved a standard that does not require pasteurization of cheese, as is now required by the FDA.
  • Sanctioned the use of five food additives which, while presumably safe, have not been approved by the FDA for use in the United States.

     The letter from House Members urged Barshefsky to seek changes in the SPS Agreement at the WTO Ministerial Meeting to be held in Seattle in November 1999 to ensure that WTO decisions do not “undermine the safety of our food supply.” In addition to Rep. Pallone, the letter was signed by Representatives David E. Bonior (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), Carrie P. Meek (D-Fl), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Fortney Pete Stark (D-CA), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Karen Thurman (D-FL), James A. Traficant, Jr. (D-OH), and Henry A. Waxman (D-CA).

     “We hope that the Administration will listen to this Congressional call for reforming international food-trade rules so that a foreign country cannot challenge U.S. food-safety laws,” said Benjamin Cohen, senior staff attorney at CSPI.