WTO ruling force-feeds hormones to Europe

31 March 2008

Brussels, 31 March 2008 - Environment and animal rights groups are calling on the European Union to appeal a ruling made by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which they say allows the US and Canada to force hormone-fed beef on Europe.

A WTO internal tribunal ruled today that the European import ban on US and Canadian hormone-fed beef remains illegal and that if the EU does not lift its ban it can continue to face legitimate commercial sanctions from these two countries as compensation [1]. Campaigning organisations Friends of the Earth Europe, RSPCA, WSPA, Compassion in World Farming and Eurogroup for Animals have condemned the WTO's decision which they say puts the interests of North American exporters before those of European consumers, the environment and animal welfare.

Ten years after the first WTO ruling on beef hormones, environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners say they are deeply disappointed by an international body which has not learnt lessons from the past and continues to push ahead a narrow-minded 'market access' agenda, completely overshadowing 'non trade concerns'.

Growth hormones are used to speed up animals' development to maturity, making the production of meat more profitable. But there is mounting scientific evidence showing the negative impacts on health and the environment from the non-therapeutic use of artificial hormones in the meat industry. The latest evidence collected by the EU Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health [2] reveals that oestradiol 17% (one of the controversial hormones used in beef production in the US and Canada) is of a carcinogenic and genotoxic nature. Some scientists believe that eating hormone-treated beef is directly linked to health issues such as premature puberty in girls, genital abnormality in baby boys, and breast, prostrate, testicular and other cancers.

The Scientific Panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently highlighted findings that large-scale beef cattle production using hormones is linked to undesirable effects in wild fish species living in rivers exposed to waste water originating from the farms where this production takes place. Recurring opinion polls also reflect the opposition of European consumers to such foods, with 68 per cent of European citizens worried about residues in meat [3].

Charly Poppe, trade and economic justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, says: "Hormone feeding is one of the worst features of reckless industrial farming, and Europeans do not want it. With their narrow interpretation of the rules, the WTO judges are completely disregarding these concerns and putting the environment and public health at risk. The precautionary principle cannot be ignored for the sake of market expansion".

Adolfo Sansolini, trade policy advisor for RSPCA, WSPA, Compassion in World Farming and Eurogroup for Animals, says: "Profit is put again before consumer demands: animals are forced to unnatural growth speed to maximise profit, and consumers see their right to choose denied. The WTO has got to allow its member countries the freedom to decide how their food is produced. We are sorry to notice that these non-trade concerns are still considered just as a trade barrier."

The non-government organisations are concerned that this ruling will further restrict the ability of governments to set high standards for the protection of public health and animal welfare. Friends of the Earth Europe, RSPCA, WSPA, Compassion in World Farming and Eurogroup for Animals are calling on the EU to appeal the ruling, and to support a revision of WTO rules in general to ensure coherence with international law and the prioritisation of environmental and health concerns over short-sighted commercial interests.

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NOTES

[1] As a consequence of the 1998 ruling of the "EC Hormones" dispute and the EU's decision not to lift its ban on hormone-fed beef, the United States and Canada have applied retaliatory sanctions against EU exports since July 1999 with a value of USD 116.8 million and CAD 11.3 million respectively. The case at stake today is a challenge by the EU directed against both countries' unilateral determination that the new EU Hormones Directive is inconsistent with WTO rules. This Directive, adopted in 2003, is based on a full scientific risk assessment by the independent Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health which recommended the prohibition of certain growth hormones in bovine meat. Source: European Commission Fact Sheet: WTO disputes US-Continued suspension of obligations (WT/DS320) and Canada-Continued suspension of obligations (WT/DS321), 31 July 2007.

[2] Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health, Opinion, Review of previous SCVPH opinions of 30 April 1999 and 3 May 2000 on the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat and meat products, 10 April 2002, http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scv/out50_en.pdf

[3] 68 per cent of EU citizens declare that they are 'very worried' or 'fairly worried' about residues in meats from antibiotics or hormones. Source: European Commission, Special Eurobarometer - Risk Issues, February 2006, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/General/comm_report_eurobarometer_en2,2.pdf