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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.

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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.

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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.

(Image by USDAgov)   Details   DMCA

Expansion of markets for European poultry and milk powder has long been a key facet of the EU's trade liberalisation agendas, as African farmers and livestock keepers know. They have been mobilising to stop the dumping of highly subsidised chicken and excess dairy from Europe since years. These struggles are now more and more connected to climate change. Industrial poultry, after all, are an important source of greenhouse gas emissions. Broilers, which are raised for their meat, produce seven times more GHG emissions than backyard birds. And layers, which are raised for their eggs, produce four times more. 15

Chicken consumption is rising in many countries because it is a low-cost meat, and therefore global poultry trade is expected to increase. All of this trade comes from industrial poultry farms, which are higher emitting than backyard or small-scale operations. Brazilian and EU poultry farms are relatively highest on the climate-unfriendliness scale, mostly attributed to their reliance on soybeans. 16 Even in China, where exports are just a small fraction of the country's production, trade deals are leading to increased imports of feed materials which serve the factory farms that are built with increased levels of foreign investment.

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Beyond poultry, experts now say that over the next ten years, increased global meat consumption will raise overall greenhouse gas emissions regardless of improved feed-to-meat conversion ratios in industrial production systems. 17

3. Boosting global supermarkets and highly processed foods

The biggest names in food retail are aiming for growth in Asia, as well as Africa and Latin America, through several of today's new trade agreements. The expansion of global supermarkets brings with it the expansion of processed food production, trade and consumption. For example, under NAFTA, processed food consumption has skyrocketed in Mexico, bringing with it serious public health problems, and the country's retail sector has been taken over by large global chains. 18

Processed foods -- produced by Mondelez, Nestle, Pepsico, Danone, Unilever and the like -- are important greenhouse gas emitters, not only because of all the energy used in packaging, processing and transporting the foods, but also because of the emissions generated on the farm. Processed foods are constructed out of the cheapest raw materials that companies can source from around the globe. One package of standard supermarket food can contain powdered milk from New Zealand, maize from the US, sugar from Brazil, soybeans from Argentina and palm oil from Indonesia -- all foods that are high on the emissions scale.

(Image by Horia Varlan)   Details   DMCA

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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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