Thursday, December 17, 2015

You'll have to guess where your food comes from thanks to NAFTA

Congress has voted to repeal a law that requires labeling of meat to show the country of origin. Common Dreams has picked up the story and pointed out something else. The US could be fined heavily, as in "billions", for this "onerous" labeling requirement, hence the hasty repeal effort. The labeling requirement is popular with customers, but not endearing to big business.

What I find so interesting here is that the suppliers of the meat we see in stores would prefer that we do not know where the meat comes from. This is just one more reason to go organic when it comes to meat. At least if you go organic, especially with the Non-GMO Project label, you have some assurance that the quality you expect is the quality you're buying.

Where is the pride in the label? Where is the national pride that says, "hey, my country is producing and selling a quality product"? Dare I say that customer deception is more important than customer service?

Customer deception seems to a be a business norm. Umar Haque noticed this when he wrote, Why Business is Brain-Dead--and How to Wake Up. Ok, the article is about 4 years old today, but it is more relevant than ever before. As with GMOs, data caps and any surcharge you care to find on a statement from any big business, we have to wonder, why so sneaky? I wonder if the trend towards binding arbitration in contracts has contributed to this slow brain death. The attitude of business towards customers can border on the psychotic if the tables are so heavily tilted in their favor and there is little accountability for the executives that run them.

Back to that law that Congress passed in an omnibus spending act a few days ago. That law repeals a labeling requirement, so now that that the labeling requirement is gone, will the companies affect by it actually earn more money? Will they save money? If so, how much?

Looking again at the food quality and what goes into meat, discerning customers have to work hard to find clean food. Clean of GMOs. Clean of antibiotics. Clean of radiation treatments.

The action by Congress to repeal the country of origin labeling law is a direct response to a Wolrd Trade Organization ruling under NAFTA, a 20-something trade agreement that was signed by Bill Clinton. That was so long ago, almost before the internet became the norm, that we'd have to do some serious digging to see who lobbied for a rule that prevents or adds costs to a country of origin labeling requirement.

What has happened is that the meat industry has decided that deception is an acceptable business practice. In a WTO ruling, the meat lobby has successfully sued the United States for almost a billion dollars to make that labeling requirement, now declared a barrier to trade, go away. And they were successful.

This is what money can do to people. If you have enough money, you can make even common sense rules expensive. If you have enough money, deception is justified, customer be damned.

The WTO decision is a ruling as a result of NAFTA, a "free trade agreement" that went through extended and intense debate in the early 90s. The unions, consumer advocates and others could all see it coming. At the same time, Obama is telling us now that the Trans Pacific Partnership will be no worse. Yet, every review of the final draft of the TPP says that the TPP is like NAFTA on steroids.

So business wins again? Sure, if there are any customers left with the health, the money and the will to buy the products produced by business. It would be nice to see trade agreements that were not negotiated in secret, with language that actually puts consumers first. Until we put people before money, and teach businesses to have faith that the customers will come, consumers will remain second class citizens in the world of business.
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