Greenpeace says leaked papers on the transatlantic free trade agreement reveal threats to the precautionary principle - a basic element of European policy. This would have far-reaching implications for agriculture.
"Food safety is not a bargaining chip." With these words, German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt reacted to the publication on Monday (02.05.2016) of TTIP documents leaked by Greenpeace.
In a radio interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk, the German conservative politician pointed out that European standards for food safety "cannot be exchanged for common technology standards" in the TTIP agreement.
The environmental group had on Sunday published 250 pages of secret negotiating documents. The differing positions of the European Union and United States negotiators were clearly presented in the documents.
Greenpeace drew particular attention to impact on European environmental and consumer protection standards. The US has exerted heavy pressure on the EU to allow genetically modified food in Europe.
In return, the EU car industry would have free access across the Atlantic.
'Race to the bottom'
Greenpeace trade expert Jürgen Knirsch was very precise in his presentation of the secret documents at the Internet conference re:publica in Berlin. "If the US position appears in the final agreement, this will end the precautionary principle in Europe in a single blow."
According to this principle, EU and national legislation should only be adopted if, after thorough examination, they have no visible negative consequences on humans, animals or the environment. Until now, such concerns do not have to be scientifically proven.
Environmentalists fear the TTIP would bust through a back door, breaking with this recognized practice in Europe. "If a problem is not clearly disproven with scientific results, it is no longer considered a threat," Knirsch said, voicing fears.
And what initially sounds like a bureaucratic detail could quite directly affect food safety in Europe. Following the precautionary principle, many EU countries have committed to not authorizing genetically modified organisms and food.
The fear is that introducing genetic mutations in the natural cycle of the flora and fauna could present risks, as yet unknown.
With new regulations, international companies could find redress in the European courts - and sue for licensing of genetically modified food.
"With this agreement, there will be no race upward - rather, a race to the bottom," said Jürgen Knirsch."
Reverberations across the board
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel also stepped into the debate. A government spokesperson said that the chancellor wanted "a rapid conclusion for an ambitious agreement." One that takes into consideration, obviously, high environmental and consumer standards, the spokesman said.
And the German chemical industry association - Verband der Chemischen Industrie - denounced the environmentalists' actions.
The documents are being falsely interpreted, said association spokesperson Utz Tillmann. "It's not that basic European principles, such as the precautionary principle, will be dismissed."
"Otherwise, the European Parliament and the ministerial council would never accept TTIP."
In an action on Sunday night and Monday morning, Greenpeace projected the text of the secret TTIP agreement onto the facade of the Reichstag parliamentary building in Berlin. In addition, the group has established a "TTIP reader space" directly in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Through glass walls at eight different spots, passersby can read the leaked TTIP documents. A network of German journalists and researchers had previously checked the authenticity of the documents.
Any attribution to the whistle-blower was removed before the documents were made public on the ttip-leaks.org website. "We decided to take this step," Stefan Krug von Greenpeace Deutschland said, "to bring transparency to a scandalously opaque debate."