Without much coverage from the mainstream media, a shadowy international trade regulatory agency known as the World Trade Organization (WTO) decided last month that country of origin labels are unlawful.
The ruling may seem banal but its impact will be wide-ranging, affecting not just meat labels but labels many food products including fruit, coffee and vegetables. In the near future, you won’t be able to tell were much of your food comes from. Health regulators also won’t be able to discover the origin of whatever bacteria or disease might hitch a ride along with your burger or your veggies.
The ruling follows the theme of other, similar findings by the tribunal against dolphin-safe labels (meant to protect dolphins) and the U.S. candy cigarette ban (meant to prevent children from becoming addicted) as the global trade regulatory body works to dismantle national laws it deems stand in the way of unrestrained global trade.
The case began with a dispute over U.S. meat labeling requirements passed in 2008, a law that Mexico and Canada did not like because U.S. consumers might refuse to buy meat and produce from Mexico. The U.S. could be sued because it is a member of both the WTO and NAFTA.
“Today’s ruling makes very clear that these so-called ‘trade’ pacts have little to do with trade between countries, but rather impose outrageous limits on the most basic consumer safety policies on which we all rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “The WTO announcing that big agribusiness corporations must be allowed to sell mystery meat here, despite U.S. consumers and Congress demanding these labels, is yet another example of outsourcing our legal system to international commercial bodies that push corporate interests.”
Such rulings by foreign tribunals over which the American people have no control are set to become the norm in the future as global trade agreements grow in significance. And their power is likely to increase as well. For example, the currently being negotiated in secret Trans Pacific Partnership, a giant expansion of NAFTA, will make it possible for shadowy tribunals (unaccountable, privately-owned courts ran by global corporate interests) abroad to essentially repeal U.S. consumer protection laws and allow various parties to write law binding on U.S. citizens through administrative rulings while imposing limits on the power of U.S. Congress and the People to legislate. Moreover, such tribunals will be able to impose vast monetary damages on the U.S. government and force you to pay in terms of higher taxes should U.S. law cause these interests financial losses.
Whether this trend of surrendering national sovereignty on the altar of globalization continues will depend on how comfortable the American People will be with foreign interests deciding their fate. So far, however, the American People seem to be just fine with the arrangement.