National experts from the EU’s member states have thrown out Commission plans to lift a ban on imports of chicken treated with chemicals, reviving trade tensions between the EU and the US ahead of a major summit next week (10 June).
A vote in the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) on 2 June saw 26 national experts reject the proposal to allow the use of four currently banned anti-microbal substances for the decontamination of poultry carcasses.
Only the UK abstained from voting. The others were not convinced by the Commission’s arguments that the chemicals have been cleared by the European Food Safety Agency; that the carcasses would be rinsed with potable water after treatment, thereby removing any possible residues on the final product; or that consumers would be fully informed via clear labelling.
The vote comes as a blow to EU Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who last month promised his American counterparts that he would find an agreement in favour of lifting the 11-year ban on US poultry, which is generally treated with these processes, before an EU-US Summit on 10 June.
The issue is seen as a major test case for the new “Transatlantic Economic Council” (TEC) process, which aims to remove remaining regulatory obstacles hampering trade and investment between the two economic giants.
According to the American co-chair of the TEC, Daniel Price, failure to resolve this issue, which is the top priority for the US administration, would put into question the very purpose of the TEC.
But members of the European Parliament welcomed the decision. “Member states made this decision in tune with the opinion of European consumers, who don’t want to bow to American commercial pressure and sacrifice their food production standards and rules,” said Monica Frassoni, co-president of the Greens/EFA Group.
The dossier will now be handed over to European agriculture ministers, who are expected to confirm their experts’ position within the next three months.