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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK

Business: The Economy

US beef gets six-month reprieve

Hormones are added to much US beef to increase yields

A European Union ban on US beef imports, set to take effect on June 15 after hormone residues were found in meat imports, has been pushed back by six months to December 15, an EU spokesman said on Monday.

World trade wars
European Commission spokesman Nigel Gardner said an EU veterinary committee which is meeting on Tuesday, the day the ban is due to come into effect, is likely agree to postpone the ban until 15 December but he added that checks on beef imports certified as hormone-free would continue to ensure they are safe.

He said: "A lot of progress has been made ... We haven't got a complete solution yet, but the 15 June date has now become 15 December, so the imports can continue."

The talks are part of an ongoing dialogue between the EU and the US to try and resolve the transatlantic dispute, one of many trade rows between the two sides.

An estimated 7,000 tons of US beef certified as hormone-free is exported to the EU each year - a trade worth an estimated $20m to $30m a year.

If the EU decided to stop imports of hormone-free beef, it would effectively mean a total ban on US beef imports because the EU already bans imports of hormone-treated beef from the US and all other trading partners.

Cancer fears

The ban was imposed in 1989 amid fears that hormone-treated beef can cause cancer. In April the EU threatened to ban all imports of US beef after tests showed that 12% of supposedly hormone-free US beef imports contained hormone residues.

The US is now threatening to impose $202m in tariffs on European imports because the EU ignored a World Trade Organisation order to drop the ban on hormone-treated American beef imports by May 13. Canada has threatened to impose trade sanctions of $51m.

[ image: Some scientists fear hormones could cause cancer]
Some scientists fear hormones could cause cancer
The EU says it wants to maintain the ban until the end of the year, when it expects to complete scientific tests to determine whether the hormones are safe. The United States says there is no evidence of health risks from the beef.

Ten days ago, the WTO set up an arbitration panel to assess the losses incurred by the United States and Canada because of the EU ban.

The panel must report back by mid-July. At that point, the United States and Canada will be entitled to slap punitive 100% duties on EU products ranging from chocolate to mineral water to offset losses incurred by the ban.

The tariffs would lead to the doubling in price of the targeted products making them prohibitively expensive for American consumers and spelling possible ruin for the European manufacturers involved.

Some 90% of the beef produced in the US and Canada uses hormones which are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to make cattle grow faster and bigger.

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