Trans-Pacific Partnership and self-regulating agricultural firms

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Farmers hold a banner as they take part in a rally against Japan's participation for negotiations in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP, in Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

In the United States, much of the review and safety standards for agricultural output are self-governed. In other words, the United States Food and Drug Administration has left it up to the manufacturers of said food and drugs to decide if in fact they are safe for consumption human consumption. 

This especially holds true in the agriculture sector where US-based multi-national corporations such as Monsanto produce the largest volume of genetically modified seeds in the world.

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Instead of the regulatory agency, which is charged with safeguarding the health of the American citizen, they have turned over safety standards to those companies that manufacture, in this case, food producing seeds. It is the manufacturer, not the FDA, which decides what is safe for human consumption. 

One would assume this to be a ludicrous, if not dangerous, practice. 

Indeed it is. 

Corporations such as Monsanto are focused on profits and return on investment as public companies so often are. But for those same companies to be focused on food safety is often secondary. 

There have been numerous independent studies that indicate the genetically modified seeds and resultant crops produced by Monsanto and others are indeed a danger, if not deadly, to the consumer. This, in addition to lack of promised increase in yield, weed and insect tolerance, etc.

As we examine this problem further, we see former employees of the US government now holding executive and scientific positions within Monsanto and former Monsanto employees now holding politically appointed positions within the US government. This, the so-called revolving door has neither end nor control, in sight.

Now enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  The TPP is a trade agreement which has seen negotiations since 2010 by Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The TPP is intended to be a "high-standard" agreement aimed at emerging trade issues in the 21st century. Trade agreements, in my opinion, are seldom, if at all, in favor of the consumer. To the contrary they are almost always in favor of the companies and governments who participate in them.

There is one major problem, at the very least, with the negotiations being held with the TPP: These negotiations are being held in secret.

If the TPP favors the consumer, the citizen, the people who will be participating ultimately in the results of the TPP, why are the negotiations being held in secret? 

There have been portions of the TPP leaked to the public during the past year. One such revelation is similar, if not the same, as the current self-governance in the agriculture sector which is currently in place in the US. Yes, the same scenario which holds the seed manufacturer accountable and responsible for its own safety. Manufacturers such as Monsanto will oversee their own products and ensure their safety to the consumer much as it does today with no oversight by the TPP governments involved. 

This is especially of concern in Vietnam. There are over 3 million Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Victims who continue to die. Victims who continue to suffer. Victims who continue to be born. One of the primary manufacturers of Agent Orange was Monsanto. The very same Monsanto who is now the largest manufacturer of genetically modified seeds in the world today. Monsanto has never compensated the Vietnamese for this holocaust.  Monsanto has never acknowledged any harm done to the Vietnamese. Yet this is the same multinational company which is participating in these secret negotiations and will likely sign the TPP. 

It makes no sense for a corporation, let alone one that is directly involved in agriculture, to, in a sense, monitor its own safety with no government body involved. How many more millions of Vietnamese and others around the world are to be devastated by the poisons being manufactured, this time under the guise of genetically modified seeds before the public demands truthful transparency by those negotiating the TPP?

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By Chuck Palazzo * 

* The writer is a former US veteran and now member of the Agent Orange Action Group dedicated to seeking medical, financial, ecological and legal assistance for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. He lives in Da Nang. The opinions expressed are his own.

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