- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The European Union yesterday said it had scientifically backed up claims that hormones in U.S. and Canadian beef are health hazards and asked the countries to lift trade sanctions prompted by a ban on the treated beef.

The Bush administration quickly questioned the EU claim and the U.S. beef industry called it “pure protectionism.”

The European Union has long banned beef from North American cattle that are treated with growth-promoting hormones, claiming it could harm consumers. The World Trade Organization in 1998 said that EU legislation was not scientifically based, a ruling that allowed the two North American nations to punish EU producers — the United States slapped $116.8 million in tariffs on EU products.

The European Union admitted that it went about the ban the wrong way, but said that the underlying reasons were correct and with new evidence it is in compliance with the WTO.

“The EU has delivered a thorough risk assessment based on current scientific knowledge, fully respecting its international obligations,” said David Byrne, EU health and consumer-protection commissioner.

The Bush administration questioned that assessment.

“We don’t understand the EU’s claim that it has come into compliance with the WTO ruling against its ban. We have not seen any science-based risk assessment from the EU that would overturn the WTO’s ruling,” said a U.S. trade official.

Capitol Hill echoed the administration.

“I don’t see anything new here. The EU is stating that it will continue to keep its ban on U.S. beef imports in place. It now claims that science is on its side with regard to one of the hormones at issue, and I’ll leave this one up to the scientists, but given the EU’s record with this case, I have my doubts,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

The U.S. beef industry said that its product is safe.

“Repeated scientific studies, including ones done by the EU, show that the banned growth promotants pose no threat to human or animal health when used according to approved veterinary procedures,” said Chandler Keys, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, an industry group.

“The European Union ban on U.S. hormone-treated beef continues to be a complete violation of international trade rules. It is an illegal trade barrier, not at all based on sound science,” he said.

Despite restrictions, U.S. beef exports to the EU reached $11.2 million last year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, an industry group.

The European Union, citing a study by its Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures, concluded that one hormone commonly used to promote growth in cattle is a carcinogen. The bloc said it lacked evidence on another five, but would maintain a temporary ban while it gathers evidence.

“Public health and consumer protection are the core of our approach to food safety, guided by independent scientific advice,” Mr. Byrne said.

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