Press Release 28.06.2016

Study on precautionary principle in TTIP and CETA

  • A legal opinion proves that the European “precautionary principle” is not anchored in TTIP and CETA. This is a threat to European health standards and consumer protection.
  • foodwatch strongly criticises the fact that under the TTIP and CETA agreements it would hardly be possible to ban glyphosate and that other controversial chemicals from the United States or Canada could enter the European market.
  • Politicians are misleading the public on the risks posed by TTIP and CETA.

Paris/Berlin/Amsterdam, 28 June 2016. A new international study proves that the TTIP and CETA free trade agreements are undermining the European "precautionary principle" for protecting consumers – with far-reaching consequences. For instance, chemicals that are not approved in the EU could enter the European market and food could be subject to increased exposure to pesticides. This is the conclusion of an international team of academics, stated in a legal opinion commissioned by the consumer organisation foodwatch.

"The European precautionary principle is not given sufficient legal protection in TTIP and CETA. This puts the level of health protection and consumer protection at stake," said Professor Peter-Tobias Stoll, Director of the Department of International Commercial Law and Environmental Law at the University of Göttingen (Germany) who prepared the legal opinion together with Dr Wybe Th. Douma from the TMC Asser Instituut in Den Haag and Professor Nicolas de Sadeleer from the Université Saint-Louis in Brussels.

The precautionary principle anchored in the treaties of the European Union forms an essential basis for health, environmental and consumer policies in Europe and differs from the "follow-up approach" adopted by the United States and Canada. While in North America substances are approved in principle until it is proved that they are harmful, in Europe the precautionary principle reverses the burden of proof. This means that a company – for instance when seeking approval for chemicals – must scientifically prove that these substances cause no harm and must disclose all its own studies pertaining to these chemicals. Governments in Europe must take precautions to avoid potential risks if there are legitimate reasons to doubt the harmlessness of such substances.

The study carried out for foodwatch shows that, in contrast to what politicians in the European Union and national governments repeatedly claim, the precautionary principle is "not sufficiently anchored and safeguarded" in the contractual texts for the European trade agreements with the United States (TTIP) and Canada (CETA). Moreover, both TTIP and CETA refer to the legal obligations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which do not reflect the precautionary principle as practised in Europe. According to the study’s authors, regulatory proposals invoking the principle of precaution could be delayed, diluted or prevented in future.  

However, officials in Brussels and politicians in national governments constantly assert that exercise of the precautionary principle is not endangered by TTIP and CETA. Cecilia Malmström, EU commissioner for trade, said recently: “No EU trade agreement will ever lower our level of protection of consumers, or food safety, or of the environment.” Ignacio Bercero, EU chief negotiator for TTIP, stated: “We are fully maintaining the precautionary principle.” Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said: “We need it [TTIP] and we will have it under conditions which fully correspond to the European spirit and the European principles.” And Matthias Fekl, France’s secretary of state for trade, stated in a letter to foodwatch: “CETA and the currently negotiated transatlantic partnership with the United States [TTIP] do not question the precautionary principle as it applies in the European law or the French law where it is integrated in the Constitution.”

 "TTIP and CETA are a concealed attack on the European precautionary principle. A constitutional right is to be undermined on the quiet – with drastic consequences for consumers. Assertions that the principle of precautionary consumer protection will not be affected and that European standards are not at risk is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public," says foodwatch France’s director, Karine Jacquemart. "The precautionary principle is not mentioned in a single place in the trade agreements.

How the TTIP und CETA trade agreements endanger the precautionary principle and thereby threaten protection standards in Europe is can be seen in three examples:

Pesticides: According to applicable EU law, pesticides must be tested for health safety before they are approved. In the case of legitimate concerns, a substance must be banned as a precautionary measure. Some EU Member States, for example, are currently calling for a ban on glyphosate, a pesticide causing controversy in the scientific community – and are explicitly invoking the precautionary principle. Under the TTIP agreement, effecting a ban on glyphosate would be very difficult and possibly involve punitive tariffs.

Hormonal disruptors: Hormonal (endocrine) disruptors, such as bisphenol A, are suspected of disrupting hormonal balance and posing a health risk. According to the precautionary principle, these substances would have long since been subject to regulation within the EU. In a first step, the European Commission should have submitted criteria for defining these controversial substances by 2013, but delayed doing so for years in view of the ongoing TTIP negotiations. It was only when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) reprimanded the Commission on this account that officials recently submitted a proposal to EU Member States; environmental organisations have criticised the proposal as being too feeble. This situation reveals how negotiations on the free trade agreements are already delaying measures to protect health. Once CETA and TTIP have been signed, there is a risk that regulation will be finally off the table.

Chemicals: The European chemicals regulation (REACH), regarded worldwide as stringent, is based on the precautionary principle and therefore diametrically opposed to American law, which generally assumes that substances are harmless. Because the principle of precautionary health protection is not anchored in TTIP and CETA, the EU would no longer be able to successfully invoke this principle under these agreements. Chemicals from the United States and Canada that are now banned in the EU could be mutually recognised as being on a par and could enter the European market without further scrutiny.

Despite the far-reaching consequences of TTIP and CETA, the European Union and its negotiating partners are insisting on going through with the agreements. CETA (between the EU and Canada) has already been fully negotiated and is to  come into force “provisionally” this year – without having received the legislative approval of national parliaments in the EU’s Member States.

Press contact

Andreas Winkler
Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 240476-290