Good Evening, my name is Betsy Garrold, I homestead in Knox and I serve as President of the Board of Directors of Food for Maine’s Future and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Belfast Co-op. I am here tonite to speak on behalf of Food for Maine’s Future.
Back in 2003, in the face of NAFTA, CAFTA, Plan Puebla Panamá, etc etc I participated in the meetings that drafted the legislation which eventually lead to the formation of this commission. I wanted the wording of the legislation to be stronger and the commission to have more enforcement teeth but these hearings were a good place to start. It is heartening to see that these public hearings are still happening. So thank you to Senator Jackson and Representative Treat for keeping this public platform alive and well.
When I was asked to come here today and talk about the impact TPP will have on food security, food sovereignty and food safety, I had to think long and hard about exactly what to say. If I say food will be less safe because the TPP will negate food safety regulations then that directly contradicts what Senator Jackson heard me testify again and again this past spring in the legislature. I believe that more regulation does not make safer food. Rather, knowing where your food comes from and who is producing it, so that you can make informed decisions about where to spend your food dollars, is the key to a safer food system. Notice I did not say safe. Nothing is 100%. Whether your organic carrots come from next door or from China there is always the chance they may be contaminated in some way. What I propose is that the farmer next door is not going to deliberately contaminate the produce they sell you in order to make a buck. Unlike food manufacturers in China who could, and did, contaminate infant formula, pet food, eggs and other food products with melamine in what the World Health Organization calls one of the largest food safety events in recent years.
I am going to read you something written by a young woman affiliated with a group I had the honor of addressing this past summer; Real Food Challenge. This group works with university students to encourage college cafeterias to buy more locally sourced food. This initiative is one of the newer attempts to help small, local farmers sell more product locally. Farm to institution sales. Just one more income stream that will help family farms keep their heads above water financially.
Natalie Yoon, United Students for Fair Trade, wrote concerning four key points about the TPP and our food system. This is what she had to say (with some interjections and asides from me).
1. Small producers will be wiped out. As the TPP removes tariffs and basic protections from international markets, it will be very difficult for small farmers to stay afloat in the face of international competition. In countries like Japan (and I might add states like Maine) where 80% of the agriculture sector is made up of small farmers, the TPP will wipe out entire communities and replace small farms with large agribusinesses.
2. The TPP will drastically bring down food safety standards at home and abroad. Governments will be forced to “harmonize” their food safety standards to the lowest common denominator. That means soon we could all be eating imported seafood, beef, and chicken that doesn’t meet even the basic U.S. standards. The FDA would be powerless to shut down these imports of unsafe food or food ingredients. (Now this may be a good thing, it may encourage more and more folks to buy local, buy food where they know the farmers face, but it also could be an unmitigated disaster,)
3. We won’t be allowed to know where our food comes from or what’s in it (like melamine). Food labels will also come under fire under the TPP. Transnational corporations like Monsanto are using the TPP to make it illegal to label products as containing GMOs, since it discriminates against them. Corporations have even argued that “locally grown” labels give unfair advantage to small domestic producers over international businesses. (There goes our recently minted GMO labeling bill that we all fought so hard to get enacted and even the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s own “Get Real, Get Maine” label and campaign.)
4. Governments won’t be allowed to support local food. Under the TPP, government food procurement policies that prioritize supporting their local economies will be illegal. That means that your public university (and I add public schools, public hospitals, etc.) might not be allowed to intentionally source food from local farms, since it violates “free trade” terms by discriminating against foreign farms.
Free trade agreements have for years undermined our national economy and caused the shipping of manufacturing jobs overseas. Those of us who farm had a false sense of security that at least our jobs could not be uprooted and sold to the lowest bidder. Please help us continue to believe that by doing all you can to make the TPP, if not a bad notion abandoned, at least a document strong enough to protect small local producers whether they are farmers, fishers, or foresters.