The Cost of Free Trade: Should Food Safety Standards be Sacrificed?

Following pressure from economic integration with the United States, the concept of lowering food safety standards in Australia has emerged.
November 4, 2014

Following pressure from economic integration with the United States, the concept of lowering food safety standards in Australia has emerged as a significant discussion topic.

A decade on from the establishment of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, Australia is now entering further negotiations relating to the controversial new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP).

Over the years, geographical isolation and strict quarantine laws have managed to keep Australia relatively sheltered from diseases and pests spread commonly through international trade. Subsequently, many health threats and farming costs have passed over Australia without impact, ranking it amongst the best in the world for food safety.

While many regard the stringent food safety regulations in Australia to be a barrier against trade, the truth is that they are valuable measures of protection for consumers within the country.

The results of the 20th Australian Total Diet Survey stated that "Australia’s food supply is one of the safest and cleanest in the world". However, in spite of this, recent trade negotiations suggest that the U.S. has been applying pressure to Australia, in an attempt to undermine food safety laws, and lower regulations.

Australia’s International Food Safety Reputation

Australia has an outstanding reputation for clean produce, which provides better opportunities for growing and encouraging premium markets. However, if the U.S. succeeds at pushing Australia to lower food safety standards, it could expose Australians to greater health risks without any economic or social benefits.

One food safety standard that Australia is currently using to it's advantage, is the use of antibiotics. Statistics have found that the countries that do not differentiate between animals and humans when administering antibiotics suffer higher rates of drug failure. For example, although Australia and the U.S. use the same rate of antibiotics, the U.S. sees a 30% higher resistance level.

Although Australia has managed to steer clear of various trade-hampering pests, not all of the results have been positive. Australian Farmers are facing increased chemical costs, and are losing control over their crops and livestock.

However, some industries have reportedly experienced a reduced rate of chemical immunity within pests. As a result, total production costs have amounted to less, and more importantly farmers have been able to maintain the clean reputation of their products, and a high standard of food safety.