by Jamison Maeda
I am an American. This means that I live in one of the world’s largest oligarchies. My country is controlled by a few billionaires, a handful of large corporations, and the politicians paid to protect them. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million dollars in the 2010 American presidential campaign. He is expected to spent the same amount or more in 2016. The Koch brothers will spend nearly $900 million dollars in the 2016 election campaign. And since a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, there is no longer a limit to the amount of money corporations can donate to political campaigns. This leaves ordinary American citizens with little or no influence over what happens in government.
These billionaires and corporations and their political allies are now writing up the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP.) This agreement would increase profits for American corporations exporting goods to the European Union by mirroring EU regulations to US regulations. But what exactly would health and safety laws in the EU be mirroring?
EU food safety regulation would be decreased to match America’s level of regulation which is dangerously lax and favors corporations over the public interest. More than 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year and 3,000 of us die from it. Currently there is a massive food recall taking place in the US due to a listeria outbreak. Five separate corporations are removing at risk product from shelves after customers contracted listeria. Three have died. Also, factory farms have had to destroy nearly 8 million turkeys and chickens this year due to an equally serious bird flu epidemic, and will have to destroy millions more. Dangerous outbreaks are not uncommon, but there is little that ordinary Americans can do. Incidents of dangerous practices and animal cruelty in corporate factory farming are more difficult to prevent or even identify now because the factory farm industry has funded legislation to pass “ag-gag” or anti-whistle blower laws making it illegal to film contamination or animal cruelty on factory farms. Someone convicted of breaking an ag-gag law can serve up to a year in prison and could be added to a terrorist registry.
Mirroring US regulation would also mean lifting existing EU bans on things like GMO products, growth hormone and antibiotics in livestock, inhumane livestock processes such as battery cages, and dangerous chemical pesticides. And if sovereign nations attempt to preserve existing regulations or create new ones, the Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership agreement allows foreign corporations to sue that nation for lost profits or added costs. Protests like the current ones against Irish Water would be pointless because elected officials would have no say in the matter anyway.
Mirroring the US would also destroy European Union regulation of banks, labor laws, union rights, personal privacy laws, animal welfare regulation, and environmental protections, because anything that would affect profit or increase cost for corporations would generate a lawsuit.
American beef, pork, and chicken products contain growth hormone, and high levels of antibiotics, and are highly subsidized by the American government to keep prices impossibly low. How will Irish farmers compete with that? And the EU already admitted that TTIP will increase unemployment leading to more Irish people going overseas to find work.
The purpose of regulations are to protect workers, consumers, our environment, and the living creatures within it. Corporations want to cut costs and increase profits by eliminating safety regulations. TTIP will take the power away from elected EU officials and give it to Monsanto, and Nestlé, and Bayer, and Wal-Mart, like the current situation in the United States.
In 1787, Ben Franklin was asked what was produced during the Constitutional Convention. He answered “A republic – if you can keep it.” It appears that we could not.
In 2015, my culture seems to be known less for democracy and more for gun crimes and reality shows. Our democratic system of government was sold piece by piece to the highest bidder.
My hope is that Irish people will hear my warning about TTIP and the danger of corporate influence in the EU, and to do everything you can to not let what happened to America happen to Ireland.