Mirror Measures and Clauses for Dummies

27 May 2024

You don’t have to be an expert on European trade to see why Slow Food is asking the European Union to introduce mirror measures in relevant EU legislation and to impose mirror clauses on countries from which it imports food. You just have think, as Fritz Schumacher put it in the subtitle of his 1973 work Small Is Beautiful, “as if people mattered.” And, we would add, as if the environment, farmed animals and soil fertility mattered.

Why we need to change trade rules at EU level?

The rules of European agriculture

The EU has set a series of regulations (bans, maximum limits and other rules) relating to food production. These deal with, for example, substances like insecticides, weedkillers and hormones that are banned, whether for environmental reasons or because they are harmful to human health; substances that are permitted but strictly regulated (like antibiotics) and prohibited practices, like applying the weedkiller glyphosate to wheat just before harvesting. Other regulations aim to protect animal welfare (of course, we have seen and we highly recommend Giulia Innocenzi’s documentary Food for Profit, but if those practices can be, rightly, denounced, it’s because they violate existing rules) or prevent deforestation.

Food for Europeans produced outside of the EU

A significant share of the food needed by the EU is imported from outside its borders. The fact that the regulations we’re talking about are only valid inside the EU poses a problem: How can we import foods that meet the same food safety and environmental standards as those that are produced within member countries?

It’s simple, you might say. If the foods from outside the EU don’t have the same characteristics as those from within, then just don’t buy them. However it is not simple at all: for example while full traceability of animals from birth to slaughter is mandatory in the European Union, this requirement does not apply to animal products imported from outside the EU.

Maximum residues of permitted substances

What to do, then, about foods produced following less-strict rules than those set by the EU?

The first step has to do with the question of residue limits. For every permitted substance used in agriculture, the EU has set a maximum residue limit (MRL) that can be contained in the product.

If the European legislation included provisions designed to make access to imported foodstuffs in EU markets conditional on compliance with European production standards, particularly in the areas of sustainability (e.g. farmers wage rates), the environment (e.g. rules related to pesticides and herbicides), health and animal welfare that would be a great step forward. But for the moment it’s not how things work: on the contrary, limits are altered by raising the ceiling of the residues permitted in the foodstuffs we import!

What about banned substances?

And what happens when it comes to substances that are not allowed to be used within the EU? Logic would suggest that the MRL would be the minimum detectable amount, in other words 0.01 parts per million. Instead, on the request of producers (of foods or banned substances), this limit is raised, sometimes by as much as 200 times. So once again there really should be mirror clauses that set—without exception!— the maximum limit of residues in foods at 0.01 ppm.


The positive effects of mirror measures and clauses

Slow Food is thus asking candidates at the European elections to work for the inclusion of mirror measures in relevant EU legislation and of mirror clauses in future trade treaties in order to:

  • protecti the health of European consumers.
  • avoid situations that put European producers at a disadvantage, because they have to follow restrictive regulations that mean higher costs, while foods produced elsewhere for a lower cost (and with lower quality) are also found on the European market and have a competitive advantage.
  • motivate non-member countries to reduce the use of harmful substances and damaging practices, both in production destined for export and ideally also production for their internal markets. Consumers and agricultural workers in non-member countries have just as much right to health as those in Europe, and the environment in need of protection remains the same: planet Earth.

Discover more here



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