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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 06:25 GMT
Europe ponders total US meat ban

beef sides A new trans-Atlantic bone of contention: Europe mistrusts all US meat

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The European Union is poised to begin a new and potentially damaging trade war with the United States.

The dispute concerns the safety of US meat, and the belief in Europe that the Americans are unable to guarantee the purity of the meat they export.

There is already an EU ban on imports of meat from the US which come from animals known to have been treated with hormone-based drugs.
World trade wars

The hormones make the animals grow faster, but are believed to be a possible health risk, and have been linked to immune system damage in children.

But the BBC Radio Four programme Farming Today reports that this partial ban could soon become total.

False certificates

It says that EU agriculture ministers are to meet on 15 February to consider excluding all imports of US meat, because of what they have been told by an inspection team which visited the US in November 1999.

The team says the Americans are incapable of separating treated and untreated meat. But the inspectors also have a more serious concern.

They say: "It became obvious that FSIS [the US food inspection service] had falsely certified the export of meat (beef, pig and horse) to the EU since May 1999".

ec building The European Commission: hard choices ahead
Other concerns reported by the inspectors include the inability of some US laboratories to detect hormone traces in meat, and the willingness of some farmers to use hormones without veterinary supervision, and without following the manufacturers' instructions.

They are said to implant or inject the hormones anywhere on the animal's body, not just behind the ear, the recommended site. Some farmers are also reported to use hormones at several sites simultaneously, and to ignore the recommended withdrawal intervals before slaughter.

Findings 'not contested'

The inspectors also say there has been no residue testing for years. Their concern is heightened, as this was not their first visit to the US, and they had raised similar points before.

The US Department of Agriculture has disputed the inspectors' criticisms, but the Europeans remain unconvinced by its stand.

The inspectors' report says that they presented the results of their mission to representatives of the FSIS, who "did not argue these findings and conclusions".

The inspectors recommend that the European Commission should "immediately block the import of fresh meat from the USA" - a recipe for a sharp intensification of the present dispute.

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See also:
14 Jul 99 |  The Economy
The US arsenal of trade weapons
13 May 99 |  The Economy
US demands sanctions in EU beef row

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