Dear Jen, Kellan, et. al: We Can End Dolphin Slaughter Without the TPP

The controversial trade deal poses serious threats to humans and the environment. We can find better tools in the fight for dolphin rights.
Jennifer Aniston. Photo by Featureflash / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Aniston is one of the many celebrities who signed the letter demanding that an end to dolphin slaughter in Japan be a condition for Obama's signature on the TPP. Photo by Featureflash /

Remember that moment early in the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers, when the hobbits Merry and Pippin are captured by the evil army of Saruman? What if, instead of doing their best to rescue the hobbits, the heroes of the story had told the Dark Lord Sauron, "We'll give you the One Ring if you just release our friends"?

Everything we know about the TPP suggests that its adoption would be a disaster for humans and dolphins alike.

That's a bit like what happened on Wednesday, when a group of A-list celebrities including Russell Simmons, Courtney Love, Jennifer Aniston, Kellan Lutz, and Gwyneth Paltrow, penned a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Last month, Kennedy made headlines when she denounced via Twitter the yearly capture and slaughter of dolphins at the coastal Japanese town of Taiji. This week, the celebrities requested that she go further. More specifically, they asked her to demand that President Barack Obama refuse to sign an international deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership unless Japan ends the slaughter.

"Although we understand that the negotiations have been quite lengthy," the letter reads, "at this point, we feel the only way to end these heinous crimes against dolphins migrating through Japan's waters is to inject our position into the current conversation regarding the trade agreement."

It's easy to see why these well-meaning celebrities took this stance. The near-daily statements of the Japanese trade negotiators suggest that they are desperate to see the Trans-Pacific Partnership passed. Therefore, the Japanese government might indeed be willing to finally change its stance on the dolphin issue in exchange for passage of the deal.

Unfortunately, everything we know about the TPP suggests that its adoption would be a disaster, mostly for humans but also, most likely, for dolphins, too. By trying to rescue sea mammals through the TPP negotiations, these celebrities are giving de facto approval to one of the most dangerous pieces of international trade policy since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994.

Perhaps anticipating this critique, the letter attempts to remain neutral on the deal: "We, the undersigned," it reads, "are not using this petition to assert a position in regards to the TPP." Yet this does not convince: A request for specific points of negotiation is a signal of faith in the process. And while the public does not have access to the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what we do know about it shows how much we all have to lose from its passage.

The leaked chapter on intellectual property would shifts the balance of power toward corporations on a wide range of other issues.

The current agreement would extend NAFTA-style "investor-state tribunals" to include 12 countries of the Pacific Rim that together encompass more than 40 percent of global GDP. These tribunals allow corporations to demand that foreign governments compensate them for laws that they say hurt their bottom line. Under NAFTA, the United States has already paid out $360 million to corporations that claim they lost profits as a result of regulations designed to protect the environment and ensure product safety, among other objectives. Another $12.3 billion in claims against the United States is still pending.

These tribunals don't just the cost taxpayers money; they also erode political sovereignty by forcing legislators to think twice before passing environmental, labor, and other protections.

None of this does anything to lessen the horrific nature of the massacre of dolphins at Taiji.

In additional to allowing corporations to seek damages for legal protections, the leaked TPP chapter on intellectual property also puts in danger most forms of labeling that tell the consumer how a product was created. Corporations would likely be empowered to challenge as barriers to trade labels that tell us if a product contains GMOs, if it was made in the United States, or if it was caught using dolphin-safe methods. The Mexican government has used a similar process under the World Trade Organization to argue that the United States' dolphin-safety labeling on canned tuna is unfair to Mexican fishermen.

Dolphins. Photo by Jeff Kraus.
Growing Concern Over Japan's Dolphin Hunt Leads to Widespread Outcry

The reaction to this year's dolphin slaughter shows a changing public mindset toward the rights of sea mammals.

The leaked chapter on intellectual property, if enacted, would shift the balance of power toward corporations on a wide range of other issues. It would extend the length of patents on pharmaceutical products, making it more difficult to obtain affordable generic medications. It would make it more likely that service providers such as Youtube will be legally obligated to immediately take down content that users post to the Internet for the merest hint of copyright infringement. And it would waive the requirement that the U.S. Department of Energy determine whether a gas drilling project is in the "public interest," which the Sierra Club predicts will result in an "explosion of fracking."

None of this does anything to lessen the horrific nature of the massacre of dolphins at Taiji. The question of whale and dolphin rights is connected to deep transitions in how we see our own humanity, our place in the world, and our relationship to other living things. The global community should do everything in its power to pressure Japan to end to the slaughter and capture of dolphins at Taiji, especially by boycotting amusement parks that display marine mammals and supporting pro-dolphin voices within Japan.

Famous people like Cher, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Oliver Stone—all of whom signed Simmons' letter—are uniquely positioned to help by getting the word out to their millions of supporters and fans.

Let's hope they find a way to do that without signaling support for a trade deal likely to result in damage to human, plant, and animal life on a worldwide scale.