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Thursday, November 29, 2012

U.S.-EU Poultry Dispute on the Use of Pathogen Reduction Treatments (PRTs)

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 imports of U.S. poultry processed with certain pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs). 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 pursue the case.

PRTs are antimicrobial rinses—including chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, and peroxyacids, among others—that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use in poultry processing to reduce the amount of microbes on meat. Meat and poultry products processed with PRTs are judged safe by the United States and also by European food safety authorities. Nevertheless, the EU prohibits the use of PRTs and the importation of poultry treated with these substances. The EU generally opposes such chemical interventions and believes that stronger sanitary practices during production and processing are more appropriate for pathogen control than what it views as U.S. overreliance on PRTs.

As PRTs are widely used in U.S. poultry processing, the EU’s ban on their use effectively prohibits U.S. poultry meat from entering EU countries. 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 totaled nearly 38,000 metric tons (MT), valued at $58 million. In 2011, U.S. exports to the same 15 countries were reported to be nearly 9,000 MT, valued at $13 million. USDA analysts believe that almost all of these U.S. exports represent “transshipments,” meaning that Europe is not the intended final destination and that virtually no U.S. poultry meat is being purchased for the EU market. Now that the EU consists of 27 countries, it currently imports worldwide about $500 million of fresh, chilled, and frozen poultry meat annually (excluding intra-EU trade), most of which is supplied by Brazil and other Latin American countries. Some estimate the U.S. loss of the EU poultry market at between $200 million and $300 million annually. Still, other foreign buyers continue to make the United States the second-largest exporter of poultry meat in the world, after Brazil.

Despite initial consultations between the United States and the EU, in October 2009, the USTR asked the WTO to establish a dispute settlement panel regarding the EU 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 PRTs violates the EU’s WTO obligations. USTR claims that PRTs are judged safe by U.S. and other public health authorities, citing European scientific opinions indicating that PRTs pose no risk to human health. The latest scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that “chemical substances in poultry are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health risk for consumers.” In addition, in 2011, the international food safety organization Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) issued guidelines for the control of Campylobacter and Salmonella in chicken meat that covers the use of certain hazard-based control measures, including acidified sodium chlorite and trisodium phosphate, among other rinses and oxidants. Some believe the Codex guidelines should effectively resolve concerns about the use of these substances in poultry processing. Nevertheless, USTR and the U.S. poultry industry remain actively engaged in this case, and the United States and EU continue to maintain widely divergent views not only on the poultry issue but on some aspects of their basic approach to food safety regulation.

Date of Report: November 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R40199
Price: $19.95

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