Beef with hormones from Canada to the EU. CETA, what guarantees?

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Canadian beef destined for the EU must be strictly free of residues of hormones and other growth-promoting drugs (e.g., beta-antagonists). As early as May 2020, the European Commission-in its report on audits conducted in Canada in September 2019-had revealed serious deficiencies in animal and carcass traceability, as well as in establishment hygiene. (1)

The issue was raised by Jordan Bardella, a young French MEP from the Identity and Democracy Group, in a written question to the European Commission. (2) But the response offered on 1/21/21 by Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, tends to downplay the problem. (3) CETA, what guarantees?

Canada, legislative reforms and European Commission audit

The European Commission’s DG Sante (Health and Food Safety) has devoted only two audits to verifying the safety of meat in Canada last decade. In 2014, as a result of a mission with inauspicious, disappointing outcomes, Brussels recommended drastic reforms in public veterinary regulations and controls to Ottawa. (4) Regulatory reform actually occurred with the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SOR/2018-108), effective 1/15/19. (5) But it was not enough.

Indeed, theaudit conducted by European officials on 9-20.9.19 reveals how ”in the beef sector, most of the corrective actions announced by the central competent authority in its action plan (…) on traceability and eligibility [all’export] in the EU as far as the hormone-free program is concerned, it has not been implemented: the two existing computerized databases are not yet fully interconnected, cattle movements (…) are not notified, and there are no checks on the use of official ear tags delivered to farms‘ (EC, audit report 25.6.20, Executive Summary). (1)

Establishment security and out-of-control notifications

‘The control system in place does not ensure that only fully compliant food processing establishments are listed or maintained on the list for export to the EU’ (EC, audit report 25.6.20, para. 26). (1)

‘Dual notification of domestic movements by companies moving and receiving animals is not implemented, making it impossible to verify the correctness of notific ations, compliance with notification deadlines, or identification of undeclared movements’ (para. 36).

Unreliable traceability and health certificates

‘The traceability system for EU-eligible cattle whose meat is exported to the EU has shown a number of shortcomings (…). Bovine databases, which are intended to support the traceability of EU-eligible cattle, contain incomplete information on animal movements, do not allow complete control of the traceability of EU-eligible cattle by competent authorities, and may not show the current location of animals.

For the above reasons, the databases designed to support the traceability of EU-eligible cattle are unreliable, weakening the entire traceability system and consequently the guarantees provided by the control authorities in the health certificate’ (EC, audit report 25.6.20, para. 51). (1)

Veterinary checks, ‘potential’ conflict of interest

‘A potential conflict of interest is not adequately addressed vis-à-vis private veterinarians who are accredited with the relevant authorities to assess the adherence of pig/cattle farms and cattle farms to the requirements of both hormone-free programs. These veterinarians are paid by the operators subject to their inspections, also providing them with livestock and health care.

The current system implemented by the competent authorities to assess the compliance of food establishments with Canadian legislation and additional EU regulations fails to provide the assurances that only fully compliant establishments continue to be listed for export to the EU; the system does not adequately reflect the true conditions of structure and hygiene in federally registered establishments listed for export’ (EC, audit report 25.6.20. Chapter 6, General Conclusions). (1)

CETA and beef with hormones, European Parliament question

MEP Jordan Bardella – in his question 27.10.20 to the European Commission – referred in extreme summary to the audit report 25.6.20 referred to in the previous paragraphs. Recalling that ‘when CETA was adopted, EU leaders assured that strict control over such products had been ensured.

1. What steps will the Commission take to ensure that this problem poses no danger to the health of EU consumers?

2. Will the planned measures include the activation of safeguard clauses, as permitted by the treaty between the EU and Canada?’ (2)

Canadian meats with hormones, the commission’s response

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, on 1/21/21 responded to Parliament’s question by acknowledging that theaudit in question ‘Identified some deficiencies mainly related to the traceability system and hygiene standards applied in establishments eligible to export to the EU.’ And yet, not having encountered ‘Critical losses of traceability or illegal treatment of animals‘, politicians and senior officials in Brussels trust on behalf of us all.

‘The Commission is closely following developments in Canada and monitoring the situation to ensure that appropriate corrective measures are taken. Following an assessment by the Commission of the full list of follow-up actions taken by Canada, the Commission will determine whether a follow-up audit would be warranted in 2021 (…) there is no reason to introduce trade-related safeguards to protect public and/or animal health’. (3)

CETA and meat safety, what guarantees?

CETA-along with other toxic treaties (e.g., EU-Mercosur)-has a number of serious critical issues that affect democracy and established rights in Europe to protect citizens and workers, the environment and health (6,7,8). The legal and control systems protecting food safety, in Canada as in Brazil and Argentina, are neither equivalent nor remotely comparable to those in place in the European Union.

Canadian cattle moreover, as it turns out, can be subjected to drug treatments banned in the EU and even be fed animal meal. (9,10). A practice banned in the Old Continent following the mad cow disease (BSE) crisis. And Canadian lobbies have already declared battle to Europe, to claim the right to disapply its regulations that has in fact already been recognized by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg (11,12).

Possible solutions

European citizens, in this situation, have no choice but to buy only those products guaranteed to be local and sustainable. #Ivotocolportfolio. However, awareness of our food consumption choices depends on some necessary reforms:

In EU, Commission to follow up on European consumer initiative #EatORIGINal! Unmask your food! That is, introduce mandatory indication of origin of all food products and their primary ingredients. Be they packaged, pre-wrapped or bulk,

– there is an urgent need in Italy to introduce a requirement to report the #originecarnialristorante, and always indicate the origin of all meats. Also on bulk or prewrapped products and in those containing meat (e.g., meat preparations and products, composite products).

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) European Commission. Final report of an audit carried out in Canada from September 9, 2019 to September 20, 2019 in order to evaluate the control systems in place governing the production of bovine and pig meat intended for export to the European Union (DG SANTE 2019/6681). 25.5.20, https://ec.europa.eu/food/audits-analysis/act_getPDF.cfm?PDF_ID=14892

(2) Hon. Jordan Bardella, European Parliament. Question for written answer. CETA and control of imports of Canadian beef (E-005860/2020). 10/28/20, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-005860_EN.html

(3) Stella Kyriakides, on behalf of the European Commission. Response to Parliamentary Question E-5860/2020. 21.1.21, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-005860-ASW_EN.html

(4) European Commission. Meat supply chain audit report conducted in Canada on 2-15.5.14 (DG SANCO 2014-7216). https://ec.europa.eu/food/audits-analysis/act_getPDF.cfm?PDF_ID=11760

(5) Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SOR/2018-108), https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2018-108/index.html

(6) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. EU – Mercosur, toxic agreement on trade. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 7/14/19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/ue-mercosur-accordo-tossico-sul-commercio

(7) Dario Dongo. CETA, the ‘Made in Italy’ betrayed. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2/28/17, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/ceta-il-made-in-italy-tradito

(8) Dario Dongo. CETA, Strasbourg green light for transatlantic disgrace. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/ceta-via-libera-di-strasburgo-alla-sciagura-transatlantica

(9) Dario Dongo. CETA, the Italian government approves ratification. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 5.6.17, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/ceta-il-governo-italiano-approva-la-ratifica

(10) Dario Dongo. CETA, Canadian meat from cattle fed animal meal. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 6.8.19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/ceta-carne-canadese-da-bovini-nutriti-con-farine-animali

(11) Dario Dongo. CETA, Canada announces battle to Europe over pesticides and GMOs. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 4.7.19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/mercati/ceta-il-canada-annuncia-battaglia-all-europa-su-pesticidi-e-ogm

(12) Dario Dongo. CETA, Court of Justice’s go-ahead for ‘shredder’ serving ‘corporations’. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 6.5.19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/ceta-via-libera-della-corte-di-giustizia-al-trita-norme-a-servizio-delle-corporation

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.