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Eu beef cancer { May 4 1999 }

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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK

Business: The Economy

Cancer scare over US beef

The European Commission has ruled out lifting its ban on imports of hormone-treated beef after a study by scientists found evidence of a risk to human health.
A EU study warns consumers are at risk of developing cancer if they eat US beef treated with a particular growth hormone.

"The Commission agreed that there can no longer be any question of lifting the ban on hormone-treated beef since the risk assessment has identified risks to health caused by hormones," the EU executive said.

WTO is judge and jury

But EU experts admit they lack sufficient information to assess the risks for five other hormones.

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that the EU must provide scientific evidence for its longstanding ban on US beef imports, or lift the ban in 10 days time.

It will say it has now done this and its report singles out a hormone called oestradiol.

It is one of six hormones used by American breeders to make their cattle grow faster and bigger.

According to the EU report, oestradiol is also a complete carcinergen. Quoting recent evidence from independent scientists, the report alleges that even small residues of it in meat may produce cancer tumours.

Children in peril

There is, so far, insufficient evidence to assess the health risks posed by five other growth hormones.

The EU scientific committee for veterinary measures concludes that those who eat beef treated with all six hormones are at risk of developing cancer, genetic problems and brain disease.

The report singles out children as those most at risk.

A second EU study warns that the risks are compounded by what it believes are inadequate regulatory controls in the US, where 90% of cattle producers resort to growth hormones.

They are freely available over the counter, the report says, and can be used without veterinary supervision.

The EU banned hormone treated beef 11 years ago, but the World Trade Organisation ruled that the EU had to provide more scientific evidence or lift the ban in 10 days time.

Last week, however, Brussels threatened to suspend even imports of hormone free US beef after discovering traces of the banned chemicals.

American farmers argue that their beef is perfectly safe and Washington stands poised to double the tariffs on selected European goods if the ban is not lifted. With both sides already embroiled in a costly row over bananas, they will be hard pressed to avoid yet another trade war.

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