American Standards Won’t Kill You

von Nicole Raz / 23.10.2015

A vocal segment of Europeans oppose TTIP for fear of what they see as America’s shoddy standards infecting and corrupting their impeccable ones. As American Reporter Nicole RazDie US-amerikanische Radio- und Multimediajournalistin Nicole Raz ist im September und Oktober als US-Austrian Journalism Exchange Fellow bei NZZ.at und wird insbesondere die Wirtschaftsberichterstattung bereichern. explains, Europeans might be surprised to discover that Americans have just as good of standards in most areas—and even better standards in some.

A Pew Research Center survey found that while more than nine-in-ten, or 94 percent, of Germans trust European food-safety standards, just 2 percent of Germans trust American regulations.

Americans, for the most part, like their standards and believe some areas are ripe for improvement, said Bruce Stokes, the Pew Research Center’s director of global economic attitudes. While Americans think European standards are fine, he said Germans think European standards are flat-out better.

„On a range of issues, Germans simply trust European regulatory norms more than American ones. For their part, Americans put more trust in U.S. standards, but their support is not nearly so lopsided,“ the Pew Report states.

American standards can be seen as stricter than European standards when it comes to emissions standards—as vividly illustrated with the Volkswagen scandal—as well as auto-safety standards, and in some cases food standards.

Emissions and Auto Safety Standards

„The diesel emissions standards are much higher in the US, which is why diesel hasn’t taken off in the US like it has in Europe,“ said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

In the US, diesel passenger cars are allowed to emit 0.07 grams per mile of nitrogen oxides.

„There are two kinds of gasses that come out of cars. One are the carbon related ones you want to limit for global warming issues, and then the other are the noxious gasses that are actually poisonous, and that diesel engines are famous for emitting,“ Freund told NZZ.at.

In Western Europe, the light-duty vehicle limit for nitrogen oxides emissions is 0.29, more than 40 times more than the US’ legal limit.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, „NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants.“

US auto-safety standards can also be seen as tougher than EU standards.

„When I’ve done lectures in Austria and Germany and I make that assertion you can just watch the heads shake—people just don’t want to believe it,“ Stokes told NZZ.at.

Granted, the US and Europe have the most advanced auto-safety standards in the world.

„In many cases, the differences between the standards are very modest,“ said Rob Strassburger, Vice President for Safety and Harmonization at auto-industry lobby Auto Alliance, in a statement.

According to 2013 government data compiled by the Peterson Insitute for International Economics in a policy brief, there were 15.8 deaths for every 100,000 vehicles in the EU, versus 13.6 fatalities in the United States.

„You have 91 percent of Germans beleiving that European auto-safety standards are higher than American auto-safety standards when, in fact, the detah tolls on American and European roads would say this is not the case,“ Stokes said

Both the EU and the US require crash testing, but the safety standard is also higher in the US.

„In the US the government doesn’t trust people to wear seat belts, so they require a higher standard on how much padding is inside the car,“ Freund said. „If you’re not abiding by the law in the US, you will still be safe, whereas in Europe they say the law is the law and they don’t require such padding.“

Additionally, the US requires cars to have side lights, which have been found to reduce the number of personal injuries in police-reported nighttime angle collisions by 21 percent.

Food Safety

When it comes to food-safety standards, much has been made about the US’ „chlorine chicken.“ But, the level outrage over this single point strikes Freund as ironic.

„I find it odd because EU lettuces are washed in chlorinated water and you eat lettuce raw—a chicken you cook,“ she said.

The facts about standards clearly don’t matter to people, this is a not a rational discussion you’re going to have.

Bruce Stokes, the Pew Research Center’s director of global economic attitudes

With the exception of Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium, most European countries wash their pre-packaged ready-to-eat salad mixes with a water and chlorine solution for the same reason that US washes chicken in chlorine water: To protect consumers against disease.

It is the same reason that it can be argued that the US has higher dairy standards.

„Some of the absolutely delicious French cheeses don’t make it to the US market because they aren’t pasteurized,“ Freund said. „Unpasteurizing dairy does enhance the flavor, but on the other hand you’re running a risk of spreading different kinds of illnesses.“

The US and Europe have „equal but different“ standards, says Huberta Heinzel, a spokesperson for the European Parliament. In other words, despite differing levels of pride and different ways of enforcing standards, the outcomes of standards are roughly the same in both the EU and the US.

„In terms of the likelihood that you’re going to eat somewhere and get sick, or what you’re exposed to—I don’t find the differences to be very significant,“ Freund added.

The Takeaway

Regardless, there is a clear sense that Americans and Germans—who represent the European dissent for TTIP overall, prefer their own standards.

TTIP negotiators face many challenges, one of them being a public perception problem.

„The facts about standards clearly don’t matter to people, this is a not a rational discussion you’re going to have,“ Stokes said. „And I think we’re tapping into something even more profound in both of our societies: There is a high level of distrust these days of government, corporations and experts,“ Stokes said. „And who’s telling people that TTIP would be good for them? Corporations, government and experts.“