Monday, November 9, 2015
Los Angeles Times
To save water, an underground movement to bank El Niño’s rainfall
By Bettina Boxall
Gary Serrato watched as a tractor worked its way across a field of dried-up weeds, slicing the sandy dirt into orderly furrows.
The field was being readied not for a crop but for what he hopes will be a bountiful harvest of floodwater this El Niño winter. “We’re going to capture as much as we can,” said Serrato, general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District.
He was standing in the district’s Boswell Groundwater Banking Facility near Fresno: A complex of 100 graded acres enclosed by low earthen berms. If El Niño lives up to its promise, early next year up to 10 feet of Kings River flood flows will inundate the shallow basins and slowly seep into the torn earth, replenishing growers’ groundwater supplies.
Boswell is one of four groundwater banking projects the district has built in the last decade to supplement supplies from Pine Flat Reservoir and corral periodic floodwaters that would otherwise disappear downstream.
“It’s worked out great for us,” Serrato said. “We intend to build more.”
Deep drought and predictions that climate change will substantially shrink the mountain snowpack that serves as nature’s reservoir are amping up calls for more water storage in California.
Long-standing proposals for costly new dams and reservoirs remain in play. But interest is also surging in projects such as the Boswell bank that are rewriting the standard storage script.
When the California Water Commission this year surveyed water agencies about storage proposals that might qualify for funding under Proposition 1, the 2014 water bond approved by state voters, half the responses involved groundwater projects, including one from Serrato’s district.
A confluence of factors is focusing attention on stowing supplies underground, which is generally cheaper and less environmentally damaging than building a big dam and reservoir.
A major force is the new state groundwater law that requires Californians over the next two decades to end the chronic over-pumping that has depleted many major aquifers.
Another driver is money. The days when the federal government would sweep in with a blank check for a mammoth storage project are over. And although Prop. 1 sets aside $2.7 billion for storage, the bond legislation specifies that the state will pay for no more than half of a project. That means local backers will have to dig into their pockets.
Though groundwater storage costs can vary substantially depending on the water source, the median price is significantly less than that of major new reservoirs, according to Stanford University researchers. Last year they concluded that the $2.7 billion in bond funding could provide six times more storage capacity if it is spent on groundwater projects than if it goes to the construction of new dams and reservoirs.
Many water experts say California needs more storage to buffer the effects of climate change, which is expected to intensify swings between very wet and very dry years. Global warming also means more precipitation will fall as rain, which creates heavy bursts of winter runoff, and less as snow, which melts slowly and fills reservoirs in the spring just as seasonal demand rises.
“We don’t have the pattern of runoff that we once did when most of our big projects were built,” said Lester Snow, a former secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency and who now heads the California Water Foundation.
“To compensate for that, we need to be able to capture some of the peak flows we’ll have … and get that into long-term storage,” Snow said.
The best way to do that, he argues, is to put it in the ground. “We don’t keep water in reservoirs. It gets used on an annual basis. Groundwater is far superior for putting water away for a long period of time.”
The state Department of Water Resources doesn’t have good figures on how much vacant, refillable space is available in California’s groundwater basins. But a department analysis suggests there is plenty — and more every year as Central Valley growers turn to wells to make up for steep, drought-related cuts in their irrigation deliveries.
From 2005 to 2010, the Central Valley groundwater table dropped an average of 9 feet. According to department estimates, that amounts to 5.4 million acre feet to 13.1 million acre feet of storage space.
In the Southland, a 2011 report for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California concluded the region has 3.5 million acre feet of unused aquifer space. (An acre foot is enough to supply two average households for a year.)
By comparison, the three biggest surface reservoir proposals under consideration would add a total of 3.8 million acre feet to the state’s storage capacity.
Still, there are limits to groundwater projects. The cheapest method of recharge is through spreading basins, which have to be located on relatively coarse-grained soil through which the water can percolate. There has to be a way of getting supplies to the recharge areas, and there has to be a source, whether flood flows, releases from surface reservoirs or recycled water. Compared with how quickly a reservoir can fill up and release supplies, groundwater recharge and withdrawal is a relatively slow process.
Moreover, said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, “You got to be damn sure somebody else hasn’t dropped a straw” into the hidden reserves, something that is much easier to do with a surface reservoir.
None of that is stopping the long-neglected sibling of more glamorous dam projects from finally getting some attention, especially in the over-pumped San Joaquin Valley. To the south of Serrato’s district, the Semitropic Water Storage District is pursuing an ambitious proposal to revive a portion of historic Tulare Lake.
Fringed with thick tule marsh, teeming with waterfowl and filled with Sierra Nevada runoff from the Kings and three other rivers, the shallow lake swelled in the wettest years to the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi.
Then the rivers were diverted in the early 1900s for irrigation and dammed. Tulare Lake disappeared, replaced with J.G. Boswell’s cotton fields, vineyards, citrus groves and oil fields. Growers use a network of bypasses and canals to keep the Kings’ spring overflow out of their fields, shunting it to the San Joaquin River and out of the basin.
Semitropic wants to catch some of those wet-year flood flows and redirect them to 40,000 acres of the old lake bed, where the agency proposes to construct three shallow, earth-bottomed reservoirs. The water would be temporarily stored there and then conveyed to spreading basins at the district’s groundwater banking facilities.
“This is water that is leaving that area, land that was farmed. Now it’s going to be used for flood regulation, recognizing it’s all part of the historic lake,” said Jason Gianquinto, Semitropic’s general manager. “It generates a local supply. I think there are a lot of benefits here.”
The agency would buy permanent easements for the land — none of which, he said, belongs to the J.G. Boswell Co.
The scale of the venture will depend on whether Semitropic gets public funding. At 40,000 acres, the project would cost an estimated $350 million and store 250,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water, Gianquinto added. A downsized project financed by the district would have a capacity of no more than 100,000 acre feet.
It will be up to the nine-member water commission, appointed by the governor, to sort out which projects get funded under Prop. 1 guidelines.
“I know there’s a large interest in groundwater storage projects, and the commission is very interested in exploring those,” said Joseph Byrne, chairman of the commission, which expects to start writing checks in 2017.
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @boxall
Jerry Brown’s tunnels meet flurry of criticism, but will it matter?
By David Siders
Gov. Jerry Brown’s response to the latest volley of opposition to his plan to divert water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta lacked the cheekiness he exhibited in May, when he playfully told his critics to “shut up.”
He accused opponents of doing a “profound disservice to California’s future,” but the subtext was the same: No matter how difficult the financing or loud resistance to the project may grow, the fourth-term governor is plowing ahead.
He says the $15.5 billion project, with implications for everything from the area’s farming community to its scenic drives, will bring stability to a water system on which millions of Californians rely.
“The Delta pipeline is essential to completing the California Water Project and protecting fish and water quality,” he said in a statement Oct. 30. “Without this fix, San Joaquin farms, Silicon Valley and other vital centers of the California economy will suffer devastating losses in their water supply.”
In recent weeks, opponents protested at the state Capitol and submitted volumes of critical comments to state and federal officials on the environmental impact of the plan. A wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor, Dean Cortopassi, qualified for the November 2016 ballot a measure that could complicate the project, if not stop it altogether.
Yet the developments didn’t appear to tilt controversy surrounding the project beyond its traditional bearings. Delta landowners, Northern Californians and many environmentalists have for years opposed a conveyance, while labor unions and building trades groups that stand to benefit from a project support it.
“What’s new?” said Jerry Meral, who served as the chief steward of the tunnels project while deputy secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency.
“The people who filed the comments who haven’t wanted this project for 10 years or so and are still upset, so that’s not surprising,” said Meral, who retired from the state in 2013 and now works for an environmental group supporting the tunnels plan. “I’m sure there were people who didn’t like the pyramids, but in the end they got built because, frankly, the people who had the power to build them built them.”
At Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream in Walnut Grove, where “Stop the Tunnels” signs abound, Christina Doyle counted tips and said conversation about the tunnels has carried on persistently – and unchanged – for five years.
“People are hopeful that it will stop, but people are terrified at the same time,” she said. “Everyone’s pissed. Everyone has been, is, and will continue to be pissed.”
Brown has been seeking to build a water conveyance around the Delta since he was governor before. His earlier diversion plan, the peripheral canal, was defeated in a referendum in 1982.
In his return to office, Brown has argued that a conveyance is necessary to stabilize water deliveries that serve millions of Californians and to restore the Delta’s fragile ecosystem.
Opponents say the project will damage the environment, but the significance of their input is unclear. Brown’s tunnels plan, which would be permitted administratively by state and federal officials, does not require legislative approval or a public vote.
The prospect of financing, however, appears problematic. In public comments last month, downstream water agencies that would pay for the project raised concerns about the cost of the project and the reliability of future water deliveries.
“I think it’s got quite a lot of hurdles ahead of it, in my view,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at University of the Pacific. “It’s the commitment of the governor that’s propping the project up at this time.”
Michael said Brown “has the politics in his favor” without the need for a vote, but is “trying to harpoon many whales at once.”
“Even if it were to obtain some regulatory approval, it’s going to be very difficult to finance the project.” Michael said. “When you actually look at the numbers, there’s serious questions as to whether this will make sense.”
The Brown administration plans to finalize environmental documents for the project by mid-2016. Before then, it is possible Brown will negotiate a modified project with the water users he needs to fund it, said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Davis.
“I think we might not have seen the final proposal yet,” he said.
Lund said the tunnels’ prospects have been helped by increasing concern about long-term water supplies, with awareness heightened by Brown’s focus on the issue and California’s long-term drought.
“You have to sort of look at this in a historical time frame,” he said. “I think that the chances of something like this happening are higher now than they’ve been in a long time.”
The water project and a $68 billion high-speed rail system constitute Brown’s largest public works initiatives. He will term out in 2019, and “as always, we talk about the legacy … the sand is going out of the hourglass,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson.
“There’s an urgency in terms of the clock,” Whalen said.
Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat and the lower house’s incoming speaker, said the project “has a long way to go,” predicting it will take several years to know whether a project will be approved.
“I think, you know, the jury’s still out,” he said.
But Rendon, while unsure about the tunnels project, said the Delta ecosystem, “as a place, as a water supply, needs to be figured out.”
“I don’t think we have that long to wait,” he said.
of the tunnels project are settling in for a lengthy fight. Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat who calls the tunnels an “expensive waste of time and taxpayer and ratepayer money,” said she expects the fate of the project to be decided by a court – and likely not for “many, many years.”
“In the meantime, there will be different administrations, there will be different priorities,” she said. “It’s becoming clear to me that these two tunnels are a relic of the 19th century.”
David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders, email@example.com
Dueling drought relief bills reveal stark differences
By Richard M. Frank
As California enters the fifth consecutive year of unprecedented drought, Congress is debating two competing bills designed to provide federal drought relief to California agriculture. The proposals reveal stark differences in proposed federal water and environmental policy.
That Congress is considering federal drought assistance for California is welcomed – and most appropriate, given the federal government’s substantial role in the state’s water and environmental policies.
The federal government operates the Central Valley Project, a massive water storage and transportation system upon which much of the state depends. And federal regulators administer a host of environmental laws – most prominently the Endangered Species Act – vital to preservation of California environmental values.
Rep. David Valadao and fellow Republican House members from the San Joaquin Valley are sponsoring HR 2898, which has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate. Simply put, the bill would shift water resources devoted to California’s environment to agricultural users in the Valley. It would do so by modifying the ESA and other federal environmental laws, and suspend the government’s obligation under a recent, Congress-approved litigation settlement to restore water flows to the San Joaquin River.
While it’s been reported that California agriculture weathered the drought quite successfully, the environment has suffered disproportionately.
In response to the House bill, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have introduced their own, competing drought relief proposal, S 1894. That bill takes a very different approach from its House counterpart.
Rather than suspend or repeal key environmental laws to accommodate agricultural interests, the Feinstein/Boxer bill seeks to expand available water resources for all Californians. It does so by offering federal support for water recycling efforts, desalination projects, stormwater capture, and agricultural and urban water conservation.
To be sure, the House and Senate bills share some common features. Both would require expedited economic feasibility studies for new, surface water storage projects long advocated by agricultural interests. And both would require that environmental review of federal drought relief projects be expedited, a sensible strategy.
But the Senate bill is superior: It goes further to similarly mandate fast-track feasibility studies for proposals to expand existing surface storage facilities and for much-needed (and less expensive) groundwater basin storage and replenishment projects, along with expanded water conservation strategies. Moreover, the Senate bill expressly rejects the waiver or repeal of federal environmental laws to accommodate water demands of California farmers and ranchers.
In sum, the House bill would simply reallocate a portion of California’s finite water resources from one important use – preserving the environment – to another: agriculture. The Senate bill, by contrast, would expand the pie of available water supplies through federal support of a wide array of worthwhile water storage and conservation initiatives.
The competing drought relief bills are before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which held a heavily attended informational hearing on both measures last month. Committee votes on the House and Senate bills are pending.
Meanwhile, California state officials have been strangely silent on the competing congressional measures. Since operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project requires close coordination between federal and state water managers, one would think the Brown administration would have a major stake in these starkly contrasting federal legislative proposals.
Enactment of the House bill would reignite the water litigation wars and cast further uncertainty over Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to build twin tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It’s in the administration’s interest – and that of 39 million Californians – for Brown to weigh in on the congressional debate over the House and Senate drought relief bills.
During last month’s Senate committee hearing, senators from both political parties expressed hope that a political compromise could be forged, thus avoiding up-or-down votes on the competing House and Senate bills. But a better result for California agriculture and state environmental values in these water-starved times would be rejection of the misguided and ultimately counterproductive House bill, and enactment of its Senate counterpart.
Richard M. Frank is a professor of environmental practice and director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at the UC Davis School of Law.
McClatchy News Service
Meat industry, California could head to court over cancer warning labels
By Curtis Tate
WASHINGTON – The recent finding by an international panel that eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer could trigger warning labels under California law and a legal battle by meat producers and their trade groups to avoid the requirement.
California is one of the country’s largest producers and consumers of meat, and the meat industry is likely to fight any effort by the state to label its products under Proposition 65. That law, approved by the state’s voters three decades ago, requires warnings about products that contain substances known to cause cancer.
“I expect to see a lot of activity from the meat industry about that process,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a consumer watchdog group. “They’ll beat it down in the court of public opinion.”
Industry advocates and legal experts anticipate that the meat producers will try to cast doubt on the findings or downplay their significance and could take California to court over the labeling requirements.
“We may have to,” said Janet Riley, senior vice president for public affairs at the North American Meat Institute, the industry’s trade association. “The level of reaction is not proportional to the level of threat.”
California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the agency that enforces Proposition 65, relies heavily on the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer for guidance on what to list and label as carcinogenic. In California, the body’s research is considered as authoritative as that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The agency has added about 800 chemicals to the list since it was first published in 1987. Once a substance is listed, businesses with 10 or more employees have a year to comply with its labeling requirements.
Based on hundreds of studies, the international panel last month added bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and other processed meats to its list of Group I carcinogens, which include tobacco and asbestos. However, the panel emphasized that the classification of processed meats in that category did not mean the danger was equal to that of those substances.
The panel also classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic” based on “limited evidence” showing a relationship between its consumption and colon cancer. Red meat includes beef, pork, veal and lamb.
The panel also cautioned that the cancer risk from meat consumption was relatively low compared with smoking and excessive drinking, and it acknowledged that meat has known health benefits.
Critics of Proposition 65, which passed in 1986, have argued for years that its public benefits are limited because it gives consumers little context or comparison of relative risk. A warning typically only states that the product in question contains chemicals or substances known by the state to cause cancer.
“It doesn’t tell them what the risk is,” said Karyn Schmidt, senior director for regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, a trade group in Washington. “People don’t know how much they can eat.”
Groups that support Proposition 65, however, say products should be labeled so consumers can choose whether to accept the risk of exposure to carcinogens and if not, choose other products instead.
“The solution to that problem isn’t to label less,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. “It’s to have better products.”
California’s environmental health office will now consider the World Health Organization’s findings. Allan Hirsch, the California agency’s chief deputy director, said the next step would be to formally notify the public of its intent to list processed meat and red meat as carcinogens, and a public comment period would follow.
Groups on both sides anticipate that the meat industry will attempt to discredit the science of the panel’s research in a bid to head off a listing. But it could be tough to dissuade the state agency from disregarding a report from an international body whose work it considers highly persuasive.
“It would be an uphill battle for the industry to contest this on the science,” said Laura MacCleery, regulatory affairs attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Meat producers might have better luck arguing that federal law pre-empts Proposition 65. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates meat labeling, and courts have struck down state laws when they have come in conflict with federal requirements, though not always.
Bill Lockyer, who was California’s attorney general from 1999 to 2007, said he doesn’t think federal law would bar warning labels under Proposition 65.
“Pre-emption is regularly asserted, and usually rejected by a court,” he said. “For most areas like this, we have independent regulatory authority.”
In 2004, Lockyer sued manufacturers of canned tuna to require Proposition 65 labels warning of mercury in the fish. The industry argued that federal law pre-empted California’s, and lower courts initially agreed. A state appellate court ruled in 2009 that pre-emption didn’t apply, but it sided with the tuna producers for other reasons.
“I still, to this day, think we were right,” Lockyer said.
The court said that tuna didn’t have to be labeled under California law for two reasons: First, that the levels of mercury in the fish didn’t rise to the threshold that would trigger the labeling requirement, and second, that the mercury occurred naturally in the fish, rather than something added by the manufacturer.
Lockyer said those might be better arguments for meat producers.
Industry groups may also leverage any potential process on listing meat products under Proposition 65 to change a law they’ve often criticized. Efforts to reform the law have the support of Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Supporters of the law, however, said it protects consumers.
“I think consumers would benefit from having information on the package,” said MacCleery of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis
California needs to rid the Valley of cancer-causing pesticide
By Jonathan Evans
Ten million pounds. It’s hard to wrap your head around that number, but that was the amount of glyphosate, commonly known by its brand name Roundup, used in California in 2013.
As a result, when state officials add glyphosate to the list of known cancer-causing chemicals, as they’re expected to do soon, they will be unmasking a 5 million-pound environmental gorilla sitting on the backs of many of the state’s poorest residents, most of them minorities.
That’s because more than half of the 10 million pounds of Roundup sprayed across California in 2013 was on farm fields, lawns and gardens in the state’s eight poorest counties, according to a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Given that five of those counties are in the south Central Valley, the disturbing findings are hardly surprising.
But as environmental officials around the world are finally starting to acknowledge the health risks associated with pesticides such as glyphosate, this analysis makes clear that we can no longer afford to ignore the disproportionate and unacceptable burden these chemicals place on those living in our poorest communities.
Taking the necessary steps to reduce the use of glyphosate will not be easy: It is the most widely used pesticide in California and in the United States. In 2012, more than 280 million pounds were used in U.S. agriculture. Since the mid-1990s its use increased more than twentyfold, largely due to the widespread adoption of crops genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be fatal doses. Glyphosate and its breakdown products are found on 90 percent of soybean crops and in air, water and soil samples in agricultural regions such as the Central Valley.
For years, the folks at Monsanto – the makers of Roundup – have done a masterful job of convincing people across the world that the benefits of using the most popular herbicide on the planet far outweigh the risks.
We now know better.
Full or partial bans on glyphosate have been adopted by France, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Colombia. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization concluded that there is enough scientific evidence to designate glyphosate a probable human carcinogen.
Even with this mounting evidence, no U.S. regulatory agency has determined that glyphosate is anything other than safe. But California officials are poised to once again set an important national example when the state EPA decides whether to add glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens under Proposition 65.
This is significant because it will potentially require that every bottle of Roundup sold in the state include a warning label. And with that warning, comes a reminder of what is at stake – especially for our poorest residents. When you’re dumping millions of pounds of chemicals in a limited area, exposure is difficult or impossible to avoid.
This is no longer just a human health issue, it’s a moral issue. We’ve long known that the most marginalized populations in our country are being disproportionately exposed to chemical toxins. Ignoring this reality is no longer an option. The only way to tackle this problem is to reduce our pesticide use altogether.
For the sake of all Californians – especially the most disadvantaged – we must do just that and take responsible steps to reduce our reliance on agrochemicals.
Jonathan Evans is environmental health legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
National Public Radio
How Obama’s Trade Deal Might Stir Up Your Dinner
By Tracie Mcmillan
When President Obama announced the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday — and released them on Medium.com — there was a lot of talk about labor, the environment and manufacturing. But trade deals have a way of changing the way we eat, too.
Consider NAFTA, which boosted the availability of cheap avocados and winter tomatoes for Americans, while expanding Wal-Mart and processed food in Mexico. So now that we know the details of this new Pacific Rim trade deal, what might it mean for dinner — both in the U.S. and the 11 other nations party to the treaty? Herewith, a cheat sheet on the 2,000-plus-page deal:
Supporters of the TPP highlight the fact that the chapter on food safety and inspections will bring other countries up to U.S. standards and set rapid deadlines for resolving disputes over rejected shipments. Critics say the agreement gives countries new power to challenge food safety laws, which could be framed as “barriers to trade.”
“It’s hard right now for inspectors to make sure everything is safe,” said Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of trade, technology and global governance for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Currently, about 2 percent of food imported to the U.S. is inspected. With more imports coming in, pressure to resolve disputes quickly, and no mandate for more regulatory staff, says Hansen-Kuhn, it’s unlikely that inspections will improve.
Since rules on genetically modified foods differ from country to country, the agreement’s market access chapter includes a section on “products of biotechnology” — think engineered corn and soy — and sets up a protocol for importing countries to decide on product safety. It also establishes a working group for the topic, suggesting that there’s plenty more to be worked out.
Dairy, Meat And Booze
The TPP does away with more than 18,000 tariffs in the countries party to the deal. American producers will gain access to new markets — and foreign producers will get access to ours. That includes a lot of food, much of which could become cheaper here, as low-cost imports intensify competition on price.
Dairy: After significant battle during negotiations, Canada and New Zealand agreed to modest tariff reductions on dairy, opening their markets to American milk and cheese. In return, Americans may see more New Zealand milk — apple bircher “yogurt suckies,” anyone? — on shelves.
Pork: The American pork industry has become a net exporter in the past 20 years, says Nick Giordano, vice president for global government affairs at the National Pork Producers Council. The TPP will pave the way for exports to continue to grow. But America also imports a significant amount of pork. Tariff reductions on imports here could make all that foreign pork cheaper and push prices down in the U.S. — but also potentially threaten the livelihood of hog farmers.
Beef: The agreement doesn’t do much for American beef producers, says the National Farmer’s Union, because Japan won a provision that would push tariffs back up if imports surged. Smaller beef producers in the U.S. say that increased competition from imports will put more farmers out of business.
Booze: California’s Wine Institute has been supportive of the TPP, as have most American drink industry groups — think Kentucky bourbon — because the deal opens the massive Pacific market to their products. It also should mean lower prices here for Pacific Rim wines and spirits, like New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs and Japanese shochu — though the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative notes that American wine tariffs are already pretty low.
Junk food: Prepackaged food companies can be required to list all ingredients in their foods and additives, but regulators are required to provide importer companies the same confidentiality afforded domestic ones — i.e. no requesting, say, the formula for Coca-Cola to verify nutrition information and then sharing it with a local producer. So those food labels should still tell you whether you can pronounce what you’re eating.
Organic Products: Countries can enforce organic standards and are encouraged to come up with a way to unify them across borders. But there’s no provision about whether stricter or looser standards should prevail. According to the agreement’s draft text, if a country “maintains requirements relating to the production, processing, or labeling of products as organic, it shall enforce such requirements.” The USTR was unable to provide specifics by publishing time.
Challenging other nations’ laws: The Investor State Dispute Settlement provision — which Elizabeth Warren called “the TPP clause everyone should oppose” — gives member states the power to challenge other states’ laws that impact trade and sales. The clause is similar to the provision in NAFTA that overturned a Mexican tax on high fructose corn syrup in favor of American companies’ right to sell it, though the TPP does contain explicit language giving countries the right to “regulate in the public interest.” No word yet from USTR on whether labeling provisions for genetic modification and country of origin would reach that standard, or who defines “public interest.”
Tracie McMillan is the author of The American Way of Eating, a New York Times best-seller, and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. You can follow her on Twitter @tmmcmillan.