TPP: Getting US snout in Vietnam trough

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American swine could make their way to the Vietnamese dining table via Chinese slaughterhouses, thanks to the TPP

American pig farming lobbyists hope that the pending Trans Pacific Partnership will give then unrestricted access to Vietnam's pork market. This could be bad for so many reasons... Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Super-secret Trans Pacific Partnership talks ended in Singapore last week without a deal. While US trade representatives reported making major progress on the 12-nation trade pact, detractors of the deal hailed the failure to hit Obama's year-end deadline as a victory for normal people.

In the past year, the villagers have grown restless.


The idea of yet another extra-democratic trade deal just isn't sitting well.

Protesters all over the globe have warned that the pact will extend the powers of US pharmaceutical companies, media conglomerates and security agencies to places like Chile and Vietnam.

If all of this sounds vague, that's because it is.

Without even a modicum of transparency, the TPP has come to feel like the proverbial monster under the bed. No one knows what it will look like and perhaps for that reason we can't help but fight a creeping sense that it's going to kill us.

That may sound a little alarmist. Unless you're, say, a Vietnamese pig farmer.

The National Pork Producers Council (AKA the lobbying arm of America's industrial pig machine) released a drooling statement in September pointing out that Vietnam sucks down more pigs per year than Mexico"”America's biggest export market by volume.

Due to a number of strict laws protecting Vietnam's patchwork of small farms and joint-stock slaughterhouses, less than 2 percent of the two million tons of pork Vietnam eats every year is imported.

Naturally, the NPPC wishes to crush those laws and capitalize on our daily cơm sườn.

The NPPC hopes the TPP will do in Vietnam's "burdensome administrative procedures," "zero-tolerance policy for pathogens on raw meat products" and "reference prices established by the Vietnamese government."

If that happens, the organization says it stands to increase pork exports to Vietnam by "hundreds of millions of dollars" a year.

They are working hard for that money.

This summer, the swine lobbyists hosted a delegation of Vietnamese agriculture officials and dazzled them with presentations on antibiotics, veterinary drug approvals, and food safety research.

In September, Vietnam began accepting shiploads of something called "white offal" with some restrictions"”all of which the NPPC wants overturned.

"The NPPC will continue to work with Vietnam to encourage the adoption of science-based food regulations as part of the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations," the organization stated in a press release.

The NPPC reserved the term "science-based" to belittle food systems (notably those in the EU, Russia, and China) which ban US pork outright because it contains ractopamine. The leanness and growth-promoting drug (it does both!) is about as popular, these days, as the NSA.

In 2007 mobs of Taiwanese pig farmers hurled feces at the Ministry of Agriculture building in Taipei when word got out that their government might lift its zero-tolerance policy on the drug. US trade representatives continue to push for an end to the ban, every year.

However, few are budging on their blockade of US pork; there's more than one reason to resist it.

In addition to concerns about the growth drug, Thai farmers took to the streets this spring to warn that, if permitted, cheap US pork imports would devastate more than 250,000 Thai households that draw their livelihoods from rasing pigs.

Ironically, they have cited Vietnam as an example.

The Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods (operating here as the Vietnam CP Joint Stock Company) is one of several global pork conglomerates that operates large-scale slaughterhouses which buy pigs from farmers who can no longer afford to do business on their own.

Some of these farmers have publicly accused CP and its ilk of creating "price spirals" that forced them to go from being farmers to contractors.

The pages of this and other papers have been full of stories in recent years describing how pig farmers have been driven to bankruptcy by falling meat and rising imported feed prices. Many are barely surviving on emergency government loans.

In addition, who knows how much longer those will hold out? In October, the Vietnam Investment Review newspaper described local agricultural officials as quaking in their green socks at the prospect of competing with America's drug-addled, hyper-packed impossibly-cheap pork.

One estimated that American, Canadian, and New Zealand pork is 1.5 times cheaper than local meat. Compound this with the blind faith Vietnamese consumers place in the integrity of American (and generally white-people-made) products and you're looking at a veritable porkpocalypse if the TPP passes.

Perhaps the strangest twist in all of this is the role China plays. The People's Republic, which refuses to import ractopamine-laced pork, recently acquired the largest industrial pork producer in the United States: Smithfield Foods. 

Soon after the sale, Smithfield announced plans to make half its pork products ractopamine-free, prompting an attorney at the Center for Food Safety (which is currently suing the American Food and Drug Administration for 100,000 pages worth of ractopamine research) to predict that it would all go to the Chinese.

In the end, one could probably upend the entire TPP negotiation process by telling every Vietnamese person at the table that they were about to ink a deal that would force their children to eat cheap Chinese pork forever.

But nothing, these days, is so simple. Smithfield's new owner, Shuanghui International, is itself partially owned by some American pigs at Goldman Sachs.

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