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Trade Deals Boosting Climate Change: The Food Factor

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Reprinted from Grain

The climate talks in Paris in December this year are viewed as a last chance for the world's governments to commit to binding targets that might halt our march towards catastrophe. But in the countdown to Paris, many of these same governments have signed or are pushing a raft of ambitious trade and investment deals that would pre-empt measures that they could take to deal with climate change (see box1).

What we know of these deals so far, from the few texts that have leaked out of the secretive negotiations, is that they will lead to more production, more trade and more consumption of fossil fuels -- at a time of global consensus on the need for reductions. 1 In particular, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are expected to result in increased EU reliance on fossil fuel imports from North America, as well as a restriction of policy space to promote low carbon economies and renewables. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mega-pact involving 14 countries in Asia and the Americas that was concluded earlier this month, is expected to result in more gas exports from the US to the Pacific Rim countries. The new deals will also extend investor-state dispute settlement provisions which companies are already using through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to reverse moratoriums on fracking and other popular environmental measures implemented by governments. 2

Less has been said about how the provisions dealing with food and agriculture in these deals will affect our climate. But the question is vital, because food and farming figure hugely in climate change. From deforestation to fertiliser use, and from factory farms to supermarket shelves, producing, transporting, consuming and wasting food account for around half of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). 3 Since creating new channels for the flow of farm goods and changing regulatory and investment regimes for agribusiness and the food industry are high priorities in the current deals, there will undoubtedly be impacts on climate change -- and likely negative ones, unless we do something about it.

We see seven main ways through which the food and agriculture components of today's trade and investment deals will make the climate crisis worse.

1. Increasing production, trade and consumption of foods that are big emitters of greenhouse gases

Trade deals, on the face of it, are meant to increase trade. This includes trade in food.

The foods that make the biggest contribution to climate change are: red meat (worst: beef, lamb and pork), dairy (worst: butter and cheese, followed by milk and eggs), fish (worst: wild caught or industrially farmed), poultry, palm oil and highly processed foods (worst: those that are airfreighted). Of course, these are sweeping generalisations. There are a lot of studies that try to measure the precise GHG emissions from different foods depending on where and how they are produced. 4 But roughly, the picture is what we see in graph 1.

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Data: Environmental Working Group ,
Data: Environmental Working Group; Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health
(image by Environmental Working Group)

Data: Environmental Working Group ,"Meat eater's guide to climate change and health", 2011

In terms of agricultural production, meat and dairy are the biggest contributors to climate change (see box2). Only 11% of all meat produced is traded internationally, but globally speaking, meat production and consumption are projected to rise by 17% by 2024 and outright double by 2050. 5 Increased trade is expected to a play a role in that growth and some of this will come from the newest trade agreements, which could shift current meat trade dynamics quite a bit. 6 Of course, we cannot predict how much trade and consumption will grow as a direct result of these deals, but the tariff cuts and lower standards are expected to lead to increased supplies and therefore consumption in importing countries. That, after all, is what the industry lobbies are aiming for.

Take, for example, the TTIP. If it is signed, it is going to expand the European market for US beef, both high- and low-quality. (Quotas for hormone-free beef will go up, while sanitary restrictions are going down. 7) European quality beef may not be able to compete, leading to a displacement of production to the US. Under CETA, Canada will be sending more pork, beef and dairy to Europe, while the EU will be exporting more cheese to Canada.

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The recently concluded China-Australia free trade agreement (ChAFTA) is expected to play an important role in increased dairy production and trade in the Asia-Pacific region. China imports about 20% of its dairy products and those imports are steadily rising. 8 Until now, because of the China-New Zealand trade deal, New Zealand dominated China's foreign dairy supply. Now Australia is expected to take some of that market. At the same time, Chinese companies themselves are investing heavily in offshore dairy production in Australia for export back to China. 9 They are also expanding their beef production base in New Zealand for export home. 10

China's surging beef imports, which currently are permitted from just a handful of countries, grew by 18% in the first half of 2015. 11 Australia now accounts for nearly half of that market because of ChAFTA. 12 Thanks to the China-New Zealand deal, China is the biggest buyer of New Zealand lamb and the second biggest buyer of New Zealand beef.

Dairy trade was a very contentious issue in the TPP negotiations -- one that reportedly held up the conclusion of the deal. Now that the deal has been concluded, Washington calls the US farm industry "the big winner" in the TPP, as not only US dairy exports are expected to grow significantly but also US beef and pork.

Tariffs and quotas aside, markets are also expected to grow for certain agribusiness companies and their investors due to the watering down of food safety regulations and labelling laws as a result of these new deals. 13 This is an important concern for farmers and consumers in quite a number of countries whose governments are negotiating. Unfortunately, despite statements from political leaders that nothing will change, many of the regulatory changes being pushed for by agribusiness giants involve lowering standards for chemicals, opening markets to cloned meat or genetically modified foods, and dropping disease-related barriers against poultry (avian flu) and beef (mad cow). Under the TPP, we now know that the US government secured the right to challenge other countries' food safety standards and to set new norms for the presence of genetically modified organisms in foods. 14 This will surely expand the US food industry's reach, globally.

2. Promoting industrial farming for export over local farms and food systems

From Broiler chickens, which are raised for their meat, produce seven times more greenhouse gas emissions than backyard birds
Broiler chickens, which are raised for their meat, produce seven times more greenhouse gas emissions than backyard birds
(image by USDAgov)
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GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Our support takes the form of independent research and analysis, networking at local, (more...)

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