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Friday, December 17, 2010

U.S.-EU Poultry Dispute

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

In January 2009, the outgoing Bush Administration escalated a long-running dispute with the European Union (EU) over its refusal to accept U.S. imports of poultry treated with antimicrobial rinses. Bush officials requested World Trade Organization (WTO) consultations with the EU on the matter, a prerequisite first step toward the establishment of a formal WTO dispute settlement panel.

The U.S. poultry industry supported the WTO filing by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and encouraged the Obama Administration to continue to further pursue the case. In February 2009, the United States and the EU held consultations. In October 2009, the USTR further asked the WTO to establish a dispute settlement panel regarding the EU’s restrictions on imports of U.S. poultry. The United States has asked the panel to review whether the EU’s ban on the import and marketing of poultry meat and poultry meat products processed with pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs) judged safe by the United States and also by European food safety authorities is consistent with the EU’s WTO obligations. As of December 2010, a WTO dispute settlement panel on the case had not yet been composed. Nevertheless, the USTR and poultry industry officials remain interested in moving forward on this case.

Even if the case advances to a dispute resolution panel, a solution appears to be elusive. The two sides maintain widely divergent views not only on the poultry issue but on some aspects of their basic approach to food safety regulation.

Because most U.S. poultry processors use PRTs, U.S. poultry meat has effectively been prohibited from entering the EU countries, where the practice is not acceptable. Prior to 1997, when the prohibition took effect, U.S. exports of broiler and turkey meat to the 15 countries that then constituted the EU were reported to total nearly 32,000 MT with a value of $44.4 million. In 2007, U.S. exports to the same 15 countries were reported to be nearly 16,000 MT with a value of $16.5 million, but U.S. Department of Agriculture poultry analysts believe that almost all of these represent “transshipments,” meaning that Europe was not their final destination. In reality, virtually no U.S. poultry meat is being purchased by the EU, they say. Now that the EU consists of 27 countries, one estimate values the lost U.S. market at between $200 million and $300 million annually. (Nonetheless, other foreign buyers continue to make the United States the second-largest exporter of poultry meat in the world, after Brazil.)

The Europeans assert that their poultry producers must follow much stricter production and processing rules that are more successful in reducing microbiological contamination than simply washing products at the end of the process. The outgoing Bush Administration expressed its frustration with the EU’s position, noting that even several favorable European scientific opinions indicate that PRTs pose no risk to human health.

Date of Report: December 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R40199
Price: $19.95

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