Why we need mirror clauses on food imported into the European Union

Food imported into the EU aren’t subject to the same production standards as European food. The introduction of mirror clauses would ensure reciprocity while also encouraging the agroecological transition.

  • In the absence of mirror clauses, food imported into the European Union does not have to meet the same production standards as European food.
  • According to Slow Food Italy, this is a contradiction that hinders the European and global agroecological transition.
  • That is why the association calls for mirror measures that protect farmers and consumers, in Europe and in countries outside the EU.

In food trade between the European Union and non-EU countries, “mirror clauses” that guarantee the principle of reciprocity are needed: this is what Slow Food Italy is calling for, explaining in a long and in-depth document the problems related to food imports, the difficulties faced by farmers, and the urgent need to change agriculture. The report is part of the manifesto for the EU elections that the association will send to European candidates, but also to the governors of the Italian territories it works with, in the belief that there are issues of principle that can be applied at the local level as well.

clausole specchio
Imported food don’t have to follow the same production methods as the Eu’s ones © iStock

“The kind of Europe we want is a Europe that pays attention to what it puts on the table, because this has so many repercussions on soil fertility, natural resources, the environmental and climate crisis, economic and social issues, and this is not limited to imported products alone,” explains Serena Milano, director of Slow Food Italy. “That’s why Slow Food Italy has developed a manifesto, articulated in twelve points, that encapsulates our idea of food and the food and agricultural policies to be adopted.”

Mirror clauses for imported foods in the EU, Slow Food Italy: “Essential for the agroecological transition”

Returning specifically to the mirror clauses, the crux of the matter is that, while, agrifood production in the European Union must comply with certain quality standards aimed at ensuring food safety, environmental protection, social rights, and animal welfare, the same is not required of foods imported from non-Eu countries for which there are, for example, with regard to pesticide residues, tolerance limits. A contradiction that, according to Slow Food Italy, can no longer be ignored. Double standards do not, in fact, make it possible to keep the commitments that the European Union made with the Green Deal and hinder globally the process of ecological transition towards the Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals; moreover, they generate a distortion in competition to the detriment of European farmers, contributing to the discomfort manifested with the recent tractor protests across Europe. Eu food trade policy cannot backtrack from sustainability strategies; on the contrary, it must support farmers in identifying with this green pact.

proteste agricoltori italia
Farmers have been protesting everywhere for the past months © Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu via Getty Images

“From an economic point of view, we are faced with a form of unfair competition: foods imported within the EU often do not comply with the same, more stringent, rules observed by European producers. We are talking about regulations that have important repercussions on the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment: they concern, for example, genetically modified varieties, the use of pesticides in the fields, and the administration of antibiotics and hormones on farms. Limitations that are indisputable, but that the EU incomprehensibly applies to domestic producers only and not to food that is imported“.

The adoption of mirror clauses is a matter of transparency for consumers and a guarantee in several respects.

Serena Milano, president of Slow Food Italy

Beef, soybeans, rice: the difference between EU e non-EU production

In order to highlight the discrepancies between foods produced in the European Union and those imported from third countries, Slow Food Italy analyzed three production chains: beef, soybeans and rice.

  • Beef. The beef produced in the European Union is compared with the beef produced in Brazil, among the world’s leading producers. While European beef requires traceability from birth to slaughter of the animal and animal welfare standards, in Brazil these two aspects are not regulated. Moreover, in Brazilian livestock farming, hormones and antibiotics are used for growth and ruminant meat and bone meal in animal feed, which are banned in the European Union.
beef data
Data on Brazilian and Eu beef © Slow Food
  • Soybeans. The comparison is again with Brazil and mainly concerns GMOs and pesticides authorized in Brazilian production and banned in the European Union. Italy banned GMOs in 2015, along with 17 other EU governments, while the remaining European countries require prior authorization for GMOs, including a risk assessment. On the other hand, 77 percent of soybeans produced worldwide are genetically modified, with peaks of about 94 percent of soybeans grown in the United States and 97 percent of those grown in Brazil. Since the majority of soy is destined for animal feed, here the problem emerges: GMOs arrive on the plates of Europeans anyway, in a hidden way through animal products (meat, milk, eggs, cheese), because it is not mandatory to indicate on the label of these foods whether the animals have been fed with genetically modified soy.
Soy production
Data on Brazilian and Eu soy © Slow Food

Closely related to GM soybeans is the use of glyphosate, a herbicide classified as a potential carcinogen by IARC, the International agency for research on cancer: currently the maximum residue limit of glyphosate for imported soybeans is 20 ppm, which is 2 hundred times higher than that allowed for many other crops. In addition, Brazil uses many plant protection products that are banned in the European Union: in particular, one-third of the active substances authorized in Brazil are banned in the Eu. And the most pesticide-intensive crop in Brazil is precisely soybean, which absorbs 52 percent of pesticides.

  • Rice. Agrotoxics are also the central issue on rice, and it becomes glaringly obvious when comparing European rice with Indian rice. There are 195 pesticide molecules banned in the EU, while in India, which covers eighty percent of the world’s rice production, only 56. In addition to several pesticides banned in the Eu and used, instead, in Indian production, there are also four molecules authorized in India that are unknown in Europe and on which, therefore, there are no maximum residue limits or controls. 
data comparison on rice
Data comparison of Indian and Eu rice © Slow Food

Mirror clauses and other demands of Slow Food Italy

In detail, Slow Food Italy’s demands to the European Union regarding food imported from non-EU countries are to end double standards by adopting mirror measures, on all stages of the supply chain, and to apply the same safety measures to imported products as those produced in the EU.

For the association, it is also necessary to rethink the approach by which maximum residue limits are set for products grown with hazardous substances, and also to establish a system of evaluation, monitoring and penalties. Pending the effective introduction of valid mirror clauses on all European trade agreements, for Slow Food Italy it is necessary to refuse to ratify those that do not contain them.

A transition to be made with third countries, not at their expense

Added to this Slow Food demands to prevent European countries from producing for export the agrotoxins that are banned in Europe, not to contribute to the harm to public health and the environment in those countries and to not creating the conditions for a conflict of interest within the Eu member States that will have to vote against raising tolerance thresholds for residues in imported agri-food products.

Slow Food Italy also calls for avoiding all forms of colonial appropriation of the global South by industrialized countries, such as externalizing the negative effects of agro-industrial systems working for the European market or exploiting the natural resources of third countries, and for taking into account the connections between the precautionary principle and the fundamental right to life of all people: those living in third countries, whose lives are threatened by toxic productions, and those living in Europe, who are subject to contamination by residues in imported products and who are also denied their right to information given the gaps in traceability and labeling for imported products.

mirror clauses
Introducing mirror clauses could improve the standards of products out of Eu © iStock

Slow Food Italy stresses that in order to achieve these goals, it is critical to assist farmers in the Global South in this transition process and to put systems in place to enable their countries to meet higher standards by moving to agroecological food systems.

“Another agriculture is possible”

A different kind of agriculture is possible, they loudly declare from Slow Food Italy, as shown by the data on organic farming, in which Italy is among the world leaders with 18.7 percent of the certified utilized agricultural area. However, it is necessary to guarantee fair prices to farmers, to reward those who produce healthy food while respecting the soil, to regulate competition between local and imported products, and to support companies so that they can change their production model from intensive monocultures to agroecological practices, that is, in harmony with ecological processes, sustainable, and respectful of biodiversity. In a word, the development of sustainable food systems should be promoted. And this is not only in the European Union, but everywhere in the world.

Siamo anche su WhatsApp. Segui il canale ufficiale LifeGate per restare aggiornata, aggiornato sulle ultime notizie e sulle nostre attività.

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest'opera è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 4.0 Internazionale.

L'autenticità di questa notizia è certificata in blockchain. Scopri di più
Related articles