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Hormone treated beef is dangerous to human health { October 16 2003 }

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EU revives row over hormone beef ban

Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Thursday October 16, 2003
The Guardian

The European commission reopened one of the most damaging recent disputes with the US yesterday when it insisted that North American hormone-treated beef is dangerous to human health and will continue to be banned.
America and Canada have been trying to get the EU to drop an import ban for years and appeared to have had right on their side. In 1998 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled the ban illegal because the grounds for refusing the meat were far too general and its scientific evidence did not specifically look at the dangers of putting growth-promoting hormones in meat.

Brussels has flouted the ruling ever since, citing the "precautionary principle" and arguing that the meat may cause cancer and harm unborn babies. In 1999 the US lost patience and slapped retaliatory sanctions on EU goods worth $116m (£80m) a year.

The sanctions targeted European delicacies such as roquefort cheese, Danish ham, German chocolate and French mustard. European producers were so furious that many, including famed roquefort producer José Bové, threw themselves into an anti-American, anti-globalisation movement which trashed several McDonald's restaurants in France.

Canada, which treats its beef in the same way as the US, hit the EU with sanctions worth C$11m (£5m) a year.

The sanctions appear to have had no effect. Brussels signalled yesterday that it had no intention of repealing its import ban and said it had amassed fresh and compelling evidence that proved North American beef is unsafe.

Such evidence meant that it was now in compliance with the original negative WTO ruling, it claimed, and the US and Canada should lift their sanctions.

The commission said that it was strengthening the ban but doing so in a way that would bolster its legality and void the original WTO ruling. "Today's move shows that we are fully committed to abiding by our WTO obligations," said Pascal Lamy, EU trade commissioner.

"We have worked hard to get this new legislation in place and I now call on the US and Canada to lift their trade sanctions against the EU."

Canadian trade minister Pierre Pettigrew said yesterday he saw no reason to change tack. "Bring me the science and I will look at it, but we have won a WTO panel that was in my view quite clear."

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