23 April 1999

EU commission threatening US beef import ban

By Philip Clarke

BRUSSELS is threatening an outright ban on imports of US beef, following the discovery of hormone residues in certain test samples.

In a move that is bound to inflame an already delicate situation in the long-running battle over beef hormones, the EU Commission announced on Wed that it planned to ban all imports under the "hormone-free beef" scheme from Jun 15.

Currently up to 8000t a year, worth about $20m (£12.5m), is shipped to the EU under the scheme.

But, of 200 samples examined by the commission between May and Nov last year, 12% were found to contain hormone residues.

A commission spokesman said the EU would use the time between now and June to try and discover where the problems were under the scheme. US farmers or abattoirs could be to blame. "In the absence of a solution, imports will be banned from Jun 15," he said. Until then, efforts would be stepped up to improve the controls.

The announcement could not come at a worse time for traders on both sides of the Atlantic. Already battle lines have been drawn for what could rapidly develop into a trade war.

Last year the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EUs 10-year ban on imports of hormone treated beef was illegal, and gave the EU until May 13 this year to come up with fresh information, or to lift the ban.

Earlier this year the commission announced it would not have this information ready in time. As such, it has been trying to devise a labelling scheme with the US and has offered temporary compensation to US cattlemen. Trade commissioner Sir Leon Brittan was in Washington earlier this week to discuss the details, though progress was said to be limited.

As for the new proposal to ban imports under the hormone-free scheme, the US points the finger of blame at the commission. "This is an EU programme so, if there are any problems, the EU must examine its own controls," said a US trade mission spokeswoman. "But since there is no scientific justification for its ban on US meat in the first place, the EU should lift the ban," she added. &#42