By Lawrence Carter
Donald Trump's nominee to be the U.S. chief agricultural trade negotiator previously called for the U.S. to walk away from trade talks with the EU if it refused to drop its ban on beef reared with antibiotics and growth supplements, Energydesk can reveal.
The news could have implications for the UK's attempts to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S., with reports suggesting the U.S. agricultural sector wants to weaken UK food standards—including the ban on growth hormones—to help boost its meat exports.
Last week, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox refused to rule out reversing a ban on the import of chlorine-washed chicken during a visit to Washington to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal.
This resulted in a cabinet split as Environment Secretary Michael Gove insisted that the UK would not compromise on its food standards by dropping restrictions on chlorinated chicken.
Now, an Energydesk investigation has found that two of Trump's nominees for top agricultural trade positions have strong links to the U.S. beef and growth hormone lobbies. And that these powerful groups are already mobilizing in Washington to take advantage of the UK's need to strike a post-Brexit trade deal.
"Walk away" from talks
Gregg Doud, who was nominated for the top agricultural trade position by President Trump last month, authored a paper in 2013 arguing that the U.S. should "absolutely" walk away from trade talks with the EU if it refused to drop restrictions on U.S. meat imports.
Doud previously spent eight years working for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA)—a powerful lobby group that has identified Brexit as an opportunity to lift UK restrictions on the import of beef reared with substances that increase animal growth rate—such as hormones and beta agonists.
Energydesk can further reveal that Trump's nominee for the new role of undersecretary of trade at the U.S. department of agriculture, Ted McKinney, is a former director at Elanco Animal Health—a major manufacturer of growth hormones and beta agonists.
During last week's visit to Washington, Fox downplayed the significance of U.S. meat exports to any future trade deal between the UK and U.S.
But some U.S. trade experts believe that getting rid of barriers preventing the export of U.S. beef, pork and chicken will be a red line for the U.S. in any negotiations.
Speaking to Energydesk, Daniel Pearson, a senior fellow in trade policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, said that a post-Brexit deal will not happen if the UK is not willing to drop restrictions:
"The agriculture community here can prevent a UK-U.S. agreement from happening and probably would unless there's some significant progress on those issues. I can't see the Farm Bureau and the commodity organizations being willing to say yes, let's do a deal with the UK under the same terms that we have with the European Union."
No "safe level"
The U.S. maintains that beef and pork reared using hormones and beta agonists is safe and that the EU ban is simply a protectionist measure.
"The EU is making arguments that are not based on science, they're below the belt punches that are belied by the scientific facts," Nick Giordano, vice president of global government affairs at the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC)—a large industry group that focuses on free trade—told Energydesk.
"It would be over my dead body that a free trade agreement gets through the U.S. Congress that doesn't eliminate tariffs on food and agriculture products ... and non-tariff barriers."
The European Commission, though, maintains that there is insufficient evidence supporting claims that currently banned animal growth substances are safe.
In a 2009 assessment of evidence supporting a bid by the U.S. to establish a recognized safe intake level for the beta agonist ractopamine, the European Food Safety Authority found "weaknesses in the data" and concluded that "the study on cardiovascular effects in humans cannot be taken as a basis to derive an Acceptable Daily Intake."
Ted McKinney, the nominee to be the USDA's trade undersecretary, held the role of director of global corporate affairs at Elanco Animal Health—a major manufacturer of ractopamine—between 2009-2014.
In 2012, McKinney played a role in a successful bid to get the UN to adopt levels at which ractopamine should be considered safe.
The motion passed by just two votes and was strongly opposed by the European Union "on the grounds of persisting scientific uncertainty about the safety of products derived from animals treated with ractopamine."
McKinney was later recruited by Indiana's then governor, current Vice President Mike Pence, to serve in his cabinet.
As director of agriculture for Indiana, McKinney is a member of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)—which is calling for the U.S. government to eliminate barriers to U.S. agricultural exports, such as Europe's ban on growth hormones.
When contacted for comment by Energydesk, McKinney declined to comment—citing the ongoing nomination process.
Energydesk's investigation found that lobbying is already underway in Washington, as the U.S. agricultural sector seeks to ensure that the UK relaxes its restrictions on meat imports from the U.S. post-Brexit.
McKinney's former employers, Elanco, are funders of the Pork Alliance—a lobbying operation coordinated by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).
Senate lobbying disclosures show that, in 2017, the NPPC has lobbied Congress; the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative regarding "lifting market access restrictions" to the UK.
"I don't think I'm the only one who's been on the other side of the pond, and who's been talking to U.S. and UK officials," the NPPC's Giordano told Energydesk.
Elanco failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
Chief agricultural trade nominee, Greg Doud, spent eight years as chief economist for leading beef lobbyists, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).
His nomination to be chief trade negotiator was warmly welcomed by his former colleagues.
"Gregg has been a friend and colleague for many years, and I can testify first-hand that America's cattlemen and women will be well-served by having Gregg at the table as agricultural trade deals are hammered out," said Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs.
The NCBA believes that Brexit offers an opportunity to finally begin exporting to the UK. Woodhall told CNBC that "A UK agreement will be a good opportunity for us to actually base trade on science rather than just a precautionary principle and undue fear."
"UK has been under the blanket EU restrictions where they will only take non-hormone, non-antibiotic treated beef," he added.
Doud's 2013 paper argued that the U.S. should walk away from trade negotiations with the EU if it refused to drop its restrictions on U.S. meat imports.
Citing the EU's bans on beta agonists and antibiotics, Doud said, "Are we prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if access is restricted via these other issues? We better be."
Referring to the European Union, he also said that "we all know who wrote the book when it comes to using non-tariff trade barriers to block imports and protect domestic markets."
When contacted by Energydesk to verify that this had been his position on trade with Europe, Doud said this was "accurate," but declined to comment further.
The Trump administration will publish a proposed rule Friday that would permit the People's Republic of China (PRC) to export its own poultry products to the U.S. It is doing so because U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims that the PRC's food safety inspection system is equivalent to ours. The decision comes on the heels of the PRC agreeing to resume importing U.S. beef after a 14-year ban.
We can't let trade trump food safety. While China will get U.S. beef that underwent strong food safety regulatory oversight, U.S. consumers will be subject to imports from a country whose own public health officials admit has weak food safety enforcement.
The PRC has experienced numerous avian influenza outbreaks that have led to the death of hundreds of thousands of birds. Some of the strains have been so virulent that they have killed humans that came into contact with infected poultry. At last count, there have been 268 reported human deaths since October 2016. In February, a multinational group of scientists published a study in which they found that antibiotic strains of pathogens run rampant in Chinese poultry.
Food safety scandals have continued to plague the PRC in recent years. In 2008, dairy products tainted with melamine killed six infants and caused 300,000 Chinese consumers to be hospitalized. Other food safety violations include food processing establishments recovering and reusing used cooking oil from street gutters; another food processor marinating duck meat in sheep urine in order to pass it off as lamb meat, another meat merchant marinating pork in chemicals to disguise it as beef; and companies manufacturing and exporting poultry-flavored pet treats tainted with toxins that sickened thousands of pets in the U.S.
What makes the proposed rule even more odious is that the PRC had decided to designate in advance two plants operated by Cargill as being able to export Chinese poultry products to the U.S., should the rule be finalized. Cargill is now reportedly trying to qualify to sell its U.S. beef to China—a win for Cargill, but a big loss for consumers.
To make matters worse, processed poultry from the PRC will not be subject to country of origin labeling requirements, leaving consumers completely in the dark about what they are buying and feeding to their families.
There will be a 60-day public comment period once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Food & Water Watch urges consumers to tell USDA to cancel this dubious proposed rule when the comment period opens Friday.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
The Trump administration notified Congress Thursday of its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Throughout his candidacy, Trump proclaimed he would "announce" plans to "totally renegotiate" NAFTA on "day one" of his presidency. Today is the 119th day of his presidency.
Today's notification from the Trump administration consists of two pages and does not offer any concrete plans for NAFTA renegotiation. Previously, a more detailed draft renegotiation notice from the administration leaked, revealing plans to keep many of NAFTA's most damaging elements intact. In contrast, the Sierra Club and other leading environmental groups have released eight specific and fundamental changes to NAFTA that must be included in any replacement deal.
NAFTA remains broken, but Trump's empty rhetoric will not fix it. We need a serious plan to replace NAFTA with a people-first approach to trade. All indications thus far show that Trump will fail to deliver.
Donald Trump promised that he'd fix NAFTA on his first day in office. 119 days later he has managed to send Congress a two-page letter that fails to include any real plan to fix a deal that has undermined environmental protections, eliminated jobs, undercut wages, polluted our air and water and fueled climate change. If Trump's cabinet full of corporate polluters and Wall Street billionaires is any indication of what he has planned, his NAFTA redux will likely include even more handouts to the corporations that have used NAFTA to profit off of Americans' misfortune for more than 20 years.
Across the country, people are calling for an entirely new approach to trade; one that prioritizes people and the planet over polluters. A new trade deal must support good union jobs, livable wages, healthy communities, clean air and water and a more stable climate. Any deal that falls short of these widely-shared priorities will face vigorous opposition from the same movement of millions—across sectors, borders and party lines—that defeated the Trans-Pacific Partnership.