MEPs’ vote ends EU-US row on hormone-treated beef

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The European Parliament approved a deal between the EU and both the United States and Canada on hormone-treated beef yesterday (14 March), ending one of the trading powers' oldest disputes.

The case dates back to 1988 when the European Union banned all imports of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones, a move that prompted US and Canadian sanctions of $125 million (€95.7 million) a year on European products from Roquefort cheese to truffles and mustard.

The EU and Washington had agreed in 2009 that the 27-member bloc would keep its ban on hormone-treated beef but that the US would gradually lift its sanctions in exchange for a steep rise in the EU's duty-free import quotas of hormone-free beef.

The volumes of hormone-free beef exempted from taxes were put at 20,000 tonnes that year and are due to be lifted to 48,200 tonnes by August 2012, of which 45,000 tonnes for US beef and 3,200 tonnes for Canadian imports.

The United States lifted its import duties on all targeted European luxury foods in May 2011.

Although EU farmers had feared a surge in imports of North American beef, these failed to materialise as the United States became a net importer of beef after grain that formerly went to animal feed was used to make biofuels.

The EU has insisted its ban on hormone-treated beef, which is largely approved by EU consumers, rests on scientific evidence of health risks, though the United States and Canada reject such evidence.

The main beneficiaries of the lifting of the US sanctions are expected to be Italy, Poland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, France and Spain, the EU Parliament said in a statement.

The Council of Ministers still needs to rubber-stamp the decision but it already gave its informal approval, the Parliament said.

Speaking to lawmakers before the vote, EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian  Ciolo? said he hoped the deal would lead to a definitive resolution of the hormone-treated beef dispute at the World Trade Organization.

Ciolo? also noted the publication last week of draft rules by the US Department of Agriculture to lift the ban on all EU beef imports, imposed in 1997 in the wake of the BSE crisis. He said he hoped the rules would be finalised "in a timely manner". 

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