WTO Wades into Hormone Treated Meat Dispute

GLOBE - Both the US and Canada have been condemned by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for imposing sanctions on European exports as a retaliatory act to previous EU restrictions on 'risky' hormone treated meat.
calendar icon 1 April 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

EU says hormone treated meat contains an unacceptable level of risk

The EU has criticized Canada and the U.S. for unilaterally maintaining these measures despite the fact that the EU has subsequently conducted a new scientific risk assessment to show that such hormone-treated meat presents unacceptable risks. Today's panel report has confirmed that the U.S. and Canada are imposing duties in breach of WTO rules. The EU therefore demands that the U.S. and Canada remove their retaliatory measures.

The panel agreed with the EU that the U.S. and Canada have illegally maintained retaliatory measures after the EU has adopted new rules on hormone-treated imports in response to earlier U.S. and Canadian criticism. Despite these new rules the U.S. and Canada have unilaterally decided to maintain sanctions without testing the legality of the EU's rules at the WTO. The Panel agreed with the EU that this is a clear breach of WTO rules.

The panel also noted that it did not consider the new EU hormones directive to comply with the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. The EU disagrees with those findings, and notes that the panel explicitly said that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the WTO-conformity of the EU Directive establishing the restriction of hormone-treated meat imports and that its assessment did not change the fact that the U.S. and Canada are applying sanctions illegally.

Both sides have the option of appealing the panel report.

The Background Story

The EU has banned the use of growth-promoting hormones and the import of meat treated with hormones since the early 1980s. This non-discriminatory ban was tested at the WTO by Canada and the U.S. in 1996, claiming it was inconsistent with WTO rules. The WTO Appellate Body found in 1998 that the EU rules were not consistent with parts of the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures in as much as the scientific risk assessments supporting the EU restrictions were not sufficiently specific. Subsequently the U.S. and Canada requested, and were granted by the WTO, authorization to impose sanctions on the EU - a 100 percent import duty on EU exports to the value of US$116.8 million and CAN$11.3 million. These duties have been applied to a range of agricultural products and some manufactured goods since the summer of 1999.

On October 14, 2003, a new EU Directive was adopted, based on thorough scientific grounding for the EU restrictions on the use of hormones in raising cattle and imports of meat treated with hormones. The scientific risk assessment drew on the 1999, 2000 and 2002 reports of the EU Scientific Committee on Veterinary Matters relating to Public Health, which concluded that for one of the six hormones in question (oestradiol 17ß) there was overwhelming evidence that it causes and promotes cancer and that it harms genes. The EU has a permanent ban on the use of this hormone for growth promotion purposes.

In five other cases (the hormones testosterone, progesterone, trenbolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol acetate), the current state of knowledge of the hormone substances does not allow the risk to be accurately determined, but there is substantial evidence suggesting potential detrimental effects on human health. Based on this evidence, the EU invokes the precautionary principle, choosing to provisionally restrict the use of those five hormones in the EU, as well as the sale of hormone-treated meat. The EU has sought to obtain additional information and has kept this measure under review by scientific experts, ensuring they reflect the latest scientific research.

The EU notified the WTO of its new measures in November 2003. The U.S. and Canada rejected the EU evidence and upheld their sanctions. On November 8, 2004, the EU filed a request for consultations with Canada and the U.S., asserting that they should have removed their retaliatory measures because the EU had provided sound justification for its restrictions on hormone-treated meat and that, in any event, the U.S. and Canada were not entitled to unilaterally determine the opposite. Two WTO panels were subsequently established. The first hearing before the panels took place in September 2005 and was broadcast via closed circuit television, to give free access to the public. Subsequent hearings with the parties and with scientists which discussed the harmful effects of the hormones in question were also public.

On July 18, 2007, the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) Scientific Panel published an opinion which concluded that there are no grounds to call for revision of the previous risk assessments which found risks to human health from residues in meat of hormone-treated cattle. The Panel also noted that new data indicated an association between the large-scale beef cattle production using hormones, and undesirable effects in wild fish species living in rivers that are exposed to waste water originating from these farms.

Further Reading

More information - To view WTO panel reports on this issue click here.

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