The Beef Hormone dispute

Cattle are given growth hormones in order to promote faster growth.

In order to protect consumer health and safety, the EU has banned imports of hormone treated meat and only allows restricted imports of meat that is certified as produced without the use of hormones.

This has caused a dispute with the US, known as the Beef Hormone Dispute, that has been ongoing since 1989, and is still on-going. The dispute has resulted in the imposition of tariffs on a number of products exported from EU countries to the US.

Read on for more details about the dispute.

Growth-promoting hormones are used widely in beef production in the United States (US) where they have been approved for use since the 1950s and are thought to be used on approximately two-thirds of all cattle in the US. In addition to the US, other countries that have approved the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef production are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Chile, and Japan, among other countries.

However, the impact of these hormones on human health and development has been long debated and the EU banned the use of all hormone growth promoters in 1988 questioning the safety to consumers of eating hormone treated meat and the ban being necessary to protect consumer health and safety. To date, the EU continues to ban imports of hormone treated meat and restricts most meat exports to the EU to a limited quantity of beef imports that are certified as produced without the use of hormones.

The ban reflects the EU’s approach to food safety policy, known as the precautionary principle, which supports taking protective action before there is complete scientific proof of a risk.

Up until 1980, Germany, the largest beef producer in the EEC, together with Italy, Denmark the Netherlands and Greece had already prohibited the use of growth hormones, the other 5 member countries including France and the UK had allowed their use.

Starting in 1981, the EEC adopted restrictions on livestock production limiting the use of natural hormones to therapeutic purposes, banning the use of synthetic hormones, and prohibiting imports of animals and meat from animals that have been administered the hormones.

In 1989, the EU fully implemented its ban on imports of meat and meat products from animals treated with growth hormones, including those approved for use in the US.

This resulted in a long running dispute between the US and the EU beginning in 1989 with the US imposing import tariffs on EU products of 100% ad valorem duty on selected food products which remained in effect until 1996.

The second U.S. action in 1999 again imposed a 100% ad valorem duty on selected foods from certain EU countries. The list targeted France, Germany, Italy, and Denmark, as well as Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

The list did not include products of the United Kingdom because it indicated support for lifting the ban. Is there some special relationship between the UK and the US ?

In January 2009, changes to the list added products from many of the newly acceded countries under EU expansion (such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Malta).

Attempts to resolve the dispute, via the WTO, have not been successful and in 2008 the WTO issued a mixed ruling that allowed the US to continue its trade sanctions but also allowing the EU to maintain its ban.

As of January 2015, the EU has granted market access to U.S. exports of beef raised without the use of growth promoters, and the United States has suspended higher duties for imported EU products listed under the dispute.


The U.S.-EU Beef Hormone Dispute

Win-win ending to the “hormone beef trade war” PLENARY SESSION Press release

R40449 (local copy pdf)