Jordan Bardella, head of Rassemblement National’s list in France’s EU elections, claimed during a public meeting that “importation of hormone-treated beef, GMO salmon and chlorinated chicken” is allowed in France because of free-trade treaties. In fact, the importing of these three products is strictly forbidden across the EU. However, some NGOs are worried about backsliding.
The head of Rassemblement National’s list in the European elections claimed on 9 February at a public meeting in Saint-Ebremond-de-Bonfossé (Manche, northern France):
“Tomorrow, in power, we will fight these free-trade treaties which are killing our economy, destroying our jobs and subjecting our farmers to untenable competition. French people must know what is on their plates: we will impose compulsory labeling and total transparency for imported products, including food sold in hypermarkets. French people must be able to consume local and not global produce. We will support French industry by putting in place economic patriotism and an obligation for the state and local government to favor our producers. It is in the name of this free circulation of everything and anything that in France we allow the importation of hormone-treated beef, GMO salmon and chlorinated chicken.”
Jordan Bardella, 9 February 2019, Saint-Ebremond-de-Bonfossé
What does EU legislation say on the subject?
The European Commission has already denied these allegations several times. Here is the detail:
On “hormone-treated beef”
Since 1988 European regulations prohibit the use of growth hormones in animal feed. In reprisal, and in line with a decision by the WTO, the United States imposed in 1999 customs duties on certain artisanal products, provoking protests in France and the “dismantling” of a McDonald’s restaurant in the southwestern town of Millau.
Following a compromise agreement in 2009 (amended in 2014), the USA lifted its sanctions and the EU established an import quota for “high-quality” foreign beef, including American beef, while maintaining its ban on hormone-treated beef. But this quota was filled mainly by other beef-producing countries, such as Australia, Uruguay and Argentina. In 2016 this led the Obama administration to threaten the EU with a restoration of the 1999 customs duties.
In mid-October the EU announced that it planned to begin discussions with the USA in order to settle definitively this longstanding dispute on American hormone-treated beef, while claiming that there was no question of lifting the ban on such beef.
On “GMO salmon”
The Commission points out that “no genetically modified organism (GMO) may be commercialized in Europe without prior authorization” and therefore that “the commercialization of transgenic salmon is forbidden in Europe”.
This is confirmed by article 4 of the EC regulation 1829/2003 (EU Parliament and EU Council, 22 September 2003) concerning genetically modified produce and animal feed:
“2. No person shall place on the market a GMO for food use or food referred to in Article 3(1) unless it is covered by an authorisation granted in accordance with this Section and the relevant conditions of the authorisation are satisfied.
3. No GMO for food use or food referred to in Article 3(1) shall be authorised unless the applicant for such authorisation has adequately and sufficiently demonstrated that it satisfies the requirements of paragraph 1 of this Article.”
Regulation (EC) 1829/2003
On “chlorinated chicken”
Only “potable water” or “clean water” may be used to “remove surface contamination from products of animal origin”, eliminating de facto the practices of the American chicken industry, which include the dipping of plucked chickens in an antimicrobial chemical solution, containing chlorine, in order to kill bacteria such as salmonella.
The EU ban on chlorinated chicken imports, in force since 1997, is the subject of a dispute at the WTO since 2009.
The European Commission’s French office stated in 2015: “In specific cases such as that of chlorinated chicken, the European Commission has repeated many times that European legislation on the protection of human life, of health, of animal welfare, of consumers, and of the environment, is not for negotiation”.
Therefore hormone-treated beef, GMO salmon and chlorinated chicken are not allowed in the European Union.
Do these products nonetheless enter the EU?
Following its ratification by the European Parliament in early 2017, the CETA accord between Europe and Canada has been applied provisionally since 21 September 2017.
Some fear that CETA, with its pro-trade bias, will allow the arrival of GMO salmon in European shops. “CETA or not, transgenic salmon is forbidden from sale in Europe”, responds the European Commission.
NGOs such as Foodwatch worry that GMO salmon will nonetheless be imported, because Canada requires “no specific labeling”. This because “independent assessments by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Health Canada and the ACIA“ found that “no source of concern over health and safety could be supported by scientific evidence”. Foodwatch considers that in these circumstances “border controls risk being difficult, increasing the risks of fraud”.
“Given the number of health scandals linked to imports, we may doubt that the authorities are genuinely capable of conducting sufficient checks to be certain that this kind of produce does not arrive on French and European soil”, Le Monde was told by Samuel Leré, environment and globalization officer at the Fondation Nicolas Hulot. To know whether a salmon is genetically modified or not, the authorities would need to conduct a genetic test which is, he claimed, “expensive, between € 5 and € 15”.
CETA also also allows Canada to export to the EU 65 000 tonnes of beef annually, but this beef must be hormone-free, which requires specific processing and checks.
For the European Commission, when asked by AFP, “it is generally acknowledged that the EU applies the strictest norms in terms of food safety. The aim is for the level of consumer protection to be the same whether the produce is made in the EU or imported”. The Commission added that “checks are a competency of member states”.
Translated by Harry Bowden, VoxEurop