Politics based on Ideals

Fiction is the answer to real world issues. It’s not apparent at first, but if we turn to fiction―particularly science fiction―then we are offered glimpses into what the future can look like. Utopian societies share very common themes, none of these themes are corporate control, environmental destruction or unsafe food additives; universal healthcare is a very common trait of future utopias. One of the common themes is the complete jettison of money, and economics being based directly on resources instead of the symbolic intermediary we are becoming acutely aware is corruptible, but that’s a conversation for another day. My argument for now is these utopian ideals: harmony with the environment, food security and scientific progress. Or, more importantly, how governments seem to be conspiring along a patently different course.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a demonstration of just such a direction. Regulation in America and Europe is very different. America has notoriously low controls on environmental pollution and food quality: we’re talking about growth hormones, pesticides, and the default position on chemical safety (in the US, chemicals are deemed safe until proven otherwise; the opposite is true in Europe). Increasingly, information is becoming a crime (I’m looking at you, Monasanto¹), and GM foods are basically always allowed. The US employment laws also protect employees a lot less, in fact if a company could place its jobs in the US instead of the UK it will tend to prefer to do so, because it has similar benefits as outsourcing to India. (This isn’t meant to be a diatribe against the US.) The basic goal of the TTIP is to standardise the regulation between the US and Europe.

Standardisation and bilateral agreements tend to appear as good things. Working together is often advertised as progress. So here’s the issue: the standard level of regulation will be the lowest common denominator. The US has the lowest common denominator regulation on employment legislation as well as environmental and food control, so Europe is going to deregulate to the dangerous American levels. This means that US food products that are illegal here, now, will soon be flooding our market and outcompeting the producers who keep their food to some resemblance of a standard.

I assume the pressure for such a trade agreement comes from the American food industry. Although, American will have benefits as it can increase its market to the EU and EU-based companies can start outsourcing to India America, the fact that the tendencies are going to be for deregulation to American standards (instead of holding America to a higher standard) smacks of a multibillion (insert preferred currency) drawing the map of ‘progress’ for us. The ‘benefit’ for America will be more low paid jobs, indicative of third world economies, which is a complete reversal of what the American dream and economics are touted as being about. Ironically Unfortunately, this is the very basis of most dystopian fictions. Corporations have control, which means they can lobby for worse employment standards and passable products being held to a lower level of scrutiny. This makes the average person’s life worse.

The TTIP is an ideal example of what it means to not be looking at the long game. True patriotism, to any country², is about seeing the future, wanting the best, and setting a course in the right direction. We can only assume that patriots want to aim for utopian ideals: safety, cleanliness, comfort, environmentalism, psychological wellbeing, protection. But the TTIP has a projected course in exactly the opposite direction.

1 – I’m talking about Monsanto fighting labelling GMO foods. But my opinion is not as clear cut as ‘Labelling should be allowed’. Labelling, I think, would constitute misinformation because people have tied up the term “GMO” with environmental degradation, which is simply mistaken. GMO foods can and have saved and improved lives. Perhaps the labelling should actually talk about farming practices: new farms; pesticide per hectare; chemicals used etc. This is difficult, though, because big companies use multiple sources.

2 – or patriotism to the planet; recognition that you are an Earthling and your country of birth is defined by artificial boundaries. Be proud of more than your country. Be proud of Earth.

Further reading

Because you have to start somewhere: Wikipedia.

It is about more than food and the environment. It is about my NHS and banking regulation: The Independent

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5 thoughts on “Politics based on Ideals”

  1. The TTIP says very little about trade and very much about entitlements–entitlements for corporations to make profits. This is not about “fee trade” and even if it were, it wouldn’t make it a good thing. Free Trade is how developed countries avoid competition from less developed countries not how all economies benefit. All of the major economies came about through protectionism and once they built those economies the countries are “pulling in the ladder up,” as it were, by espousing free trade.

  2. I wonder what sources you consider when you write that the US has “notoriously low controls on environmental pollution and food quality: we’re talking about growth hormones, pesticides, and the default position on chemical safety”?

    A year ago, I would’ve accepted without reservation such a comment, and so I feel duty-bound as your blogging buddy to peer-review your claims (as I trust and hope, you do for me). From the last year and a half of writing about GMOs, I’ve come across many folks who participate in the food system, so I’ve learned a few things that were originally foreign to me. For example, the US system takes a science-based risk approach (i.e., the LD50 test and then sets the food safety limit at 100-fold lower and 99% of food comes under this barrier), whereas the EU takes the precautionary principle approach where, in some cases, no amount of evidence can prove the ‘thing in question’ safe.

    This has resulted in Europe importing more and more food from the rest of the world to the detriment of the poorer nations of the world, because while they have become risk-averse, they still need and want more food. Steve Savage, a plant pathologist, wrote a very informative article showing the why and how here: http://www.science20.com/agricultural_realism/should_world_keep_feeding_europe-113562
    Basically, Africa is being affected the most by Europe’s lack of commitment to science-based risk assessment. There is much more I could write to this effect that show that Europe is failing themselves and the world (neonics, gmos etc), however, my intention is not to relate this to the TTP, the NHS etc. Merely, to the point in question that they don’t have a better risk system. Having a low tolerance for risk increases your risks in other areas, in this case, food security world wide and food prices, so I don’;t think the Europeans should be at all praised for this, they are exporting their ag risks to poorer nations and taking their food, which they should grow themselves.

    I’m also not suggesting that the American system is perfect, but from everything I can understand, in terms of agriculture (not end food products in a supermarket, though I doubt the EU food products are any healthier), the US system is more tolerant of the actual science and risks inherent, whereas Europeans eschew basically most risks.. I’m not sure how Britain fares in all this to be honest, since I don’t quite understand the demarcation between EU policies and their own. Perhaps you could shed some light there?

    I loved the sci-fi analogy: it is really so true. I think Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series do a remarkable job of exploring some potentials and the risks/benefits inherent? Have you read them?

    1. I haven’t read Asimov’s series, although I might make a point of doing that. I need to make a material list somewhere of the books I want to read instead of just remembering them.
      I am not doubting some of the differences in between the US and EU regulations actually show the US as better, GMOs being a great example, where the EU is utilising the Extreme Precautionary Principle (did you coin that? Or is that already a recognised term? Either way, I loved that post).
      But looking at, say, megafarms: the US seems not to consider the environmental impact of them, where as the level of concentrated effluence they produce means they aren’t allowed in the UK.

      My main source for that statement was this: chrome-extension://ecnphlgnajanjnkcmbpancdjoidceilk/http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2014/514007/AGRI_IPOL_STU(2014)514007_EN.pdf starting at 4.4 (page 58, according to the document, but page 63 in absolute terms).
      I’ll let you peruse instead of giving a (possibly biased) summary.

      1. No, i dont believe i coined the term, but thanks. That post took quite a bit of work.

        Very interesting to see how the differing regulatory structures would affect the farmers on both sides of the divide. So, are the EU and Britain in alignment on all/most of these issues?

        I wonder how/if these differences can be resolved. For one, a race to the bottom (62) is a good thing…for everyone else. when food is cheaper, we have more money for genuine economic expansion instead of the Wall St kind. However, i do see the point of the European farmers who, outside of the meat aspect of this, are hamstrung by their governments. On the one hand, i sympathize, and on the other hand, i dont, since it’ll take some dislocation and pain in order to move their governments to a more science based risk assessment (for the record, i would hope the European farmers could do the same to American farmers if and where they outcompete them). Perhaps the European politicians could convince their American counterparts to more tightly regulate the affluence problem in the factory farming industry.

        1. Farming is not something I am well versed in, so I can’t confidently say whether the UK and EU are in line with the regulatory structures. It is something I am getting interested in, though.
          The growing pains for EU farmers are a big deal, but I can’t find any reliable predictions about what the outcomes will be so I can’t really say whether there will be a race to the bottom or what regulations will be put in place.
          I would be very interested in actually getting a science-based approach to farming, though. All the regulations would be meaningful!

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