October 20, 2003



WTO Asks EU to Lift Ban On Growth Promoting Hormones In Meat Industry


A new EU directive concerning the prohibition of hormones in the meat industry came into force on October 14 2003. The directive follows a WTO ruling that condemned the EU for banning the use of certain growth promoting hormones without a scientific assessment of the risk associated with meat consumption. EU Member States are obliged to implement the new directive within the coming year.


This means that the European Commission is likely to request that the US and Canada lift their trade sanctions. These have been in place since July 1999, and the EU will now commence the appropriate procedures at the WTO to lift the sanctions.


"Today's move shows that we are fully committed to abiding by our WTO obligations," said EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy. "We have worked hard to get this new legislation in place and I now call on the United States and Canada to lift their trade sanctions against the EU."


In January 1998, this issue sprouted when the WTO Appellate Body issued a report stating that EU legislation banning the use of certain growth-promoting hormones was not based on a risk assessment as required by the WTO agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures. In particular, the Appellate Body found that the scientific material used by the EU was too general in nature, as it did not specifically evaluate the risks arising from hormone residues in meat products.


In response to that ruling, the EU reviewed the available scientific information and researched new evidence on the risk to human health of hormone residues in meat products.


In 1999, the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health (SCVMPH) concluded that oestradiol 17a should be considered a carcinogen. For the other five hormones (testosterone, progesterone, trenbolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol acetate), the SCVMPH assessment was that the current state of knowledge does not make it possible to give a quantitative estimate of the risk to consumers.


On this basis, the Commission made a proposal in 2000 to amend Directive 96/22/EC concerning the prohibition on the use in stock farming of certain substances having a hormonal or thyrostatic action and of beta-agonists.


The new legislation amends Directive 96/22/EC and confirms the prohibition of substances that have a hormonal action for growth promotion in farm animals. Moreover, it drastically reduces the circumstances under which oestradiol 17a may be administered to food producing animals for purposes besides enhancing growth. 


"The EU has delivered a thorough risk assessment based on current scientific knowledge, fully respecting its international obligations," said health and consumer protection commissioner David Byrne. "Public health and consumer protection are the core of our approach to food safety guided by independent scientific advice."
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