US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules.
Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union.
"We cannot envisage... changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations," EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington.
"There's no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don't want to eat -- that's not what this agreement is about," said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.
Nearly a year into the negotiations to create a huge free trade and free investment zone between the European Union and the United States, questions continue to dog negotiators over whether any deal would force either side to ease rules that would lower consumer protection.
Europeans have shown particular worry over whether the deal would force the region to import now-banned US beef treated with hormones and tightly limited crops and foods from genetically modified seeds.
Garcia Bercero stressed the primary objective is to reduce barriers and costs to trade and investment that arise from unnecessary regulation and differences in industrial standards.
Any solutions they reach are going to be specific to sectors, and not broad and sweeping.
"In no way can it (TTIP) compromise the levels of protection which are reflected in European Union or US legislation," Bercero said.
In food safety, where Washington says it suffers from excessive European protections, the talks are centered in part on how to use science-based risk assessment to settle differences.
Even so, said Garcia Bercero, with regard to US hormone-treated beef, it "is prohibited under European law and we don't envisage any change of our legislation."
As for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), he said there is a standard procedure already to decide which can and cannot be imported into the European Union.
"What we have said is that the procedure... is not something we're going to change," he said. "That is something that has been very clear since the beginning of the negotiations."