Didn’t we learn anything from the big listeria outbreak in 2008?
The idea of free trade has always been a bugbear for me. Back in 1988 when (what was then called) the Progressive Conservative party, led by Brian Mulroney, introduced the concept of Free Trade with the United States it became an election issue. Although it was largely unpopular, the Conservatives garnered enough votes to win the election. The Free Trade Agreement morphed into NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which is now in the process of morphing into the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas). The argument put forth by those in favour of the deal is that dropping all tariffs for businesses and restricting government interference in trade is good. The former may have its advantages, but the latter poses all kinds of potential problems.
Case in point: food inspection laws. Most, if not all, countries have some kind of regulations set in place by government to ensure that food sold to consumers is safe. Sometimes these laws run contrary to the interests of business. After all, raising healthy food animals and maintaining high standards for processing aren’t cheap. I suppose we could all naïvely believe that those who produce the food we eat are concerned with nothing less than providing us with their best, but somehow I can’t seem to shake my doubts.
Did you know that companies and individuals can sue governments if the country’s laws seem to impact on potential profits?
It’s happened many times. For instance, in the 1990s, the government of British Columbia banned the export of water out of that province. Years later, Sun Belt Water Inc., a California corporation that wanted to truck tanker loads of that water across the border, challenged the law under NAFTA’s Chapter 11. They argued that the law was an unfair trade barrier that would negatively impact their expected profits. Sun Belt Water Inc. sued for approximately $200 million in damages from BC. To this day, the case remains in the courts. The government of Quebec passed a law banning the use of herbicide 2,4-D which has been shown to be a carcinogen (among other things). A group representing the makers of the pesticide have threatened to sue (again under NAFTA’s Chapter 11) unless the government backs down.
Just because clean food and water are necessary for life and good health doesn’t mean that they’re immune from private interests. The governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico are hoping to collapse each of their food inspection laws and procedures into one that would govern all three countries. The problem is that Canada’s regulations (although not the most thorough) do maintain higher standards than either the U.S. or Mexico. If we adopt a new modified food inspection system, will we see more listeria outbreaks and food recalls?
Details on NAFTA aren’t that hard to find. Look into it for yourself to find out how much of the Agreement is actually about trade and how much of it is just about power and control.