European Community beefs about use of US meat hormones. Public opinion in West Europe leads EC to steer away from US meats

Members of the European Community have a beef against United States meat industry exports. All US beef cattle receive injections of hormones, which EC members consider dangerous to consumers. If the EC has its way, all US beef exports to the 12 Community members will be halted by Jan. 1, 1989.

Each year the US meat industry exports to the EC about 50,000 metric tons of meat with a value of $125-135 million. Some two-thirds of the exports consist of offal, used mostly in France to make p^at'e, salami, and other prepared meats.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the EC is America's second (after Japan) largest beef export market.

A recent EC directive bans the use of sexual hormones which are added to fatten beef. The US claims there is little, if any, scientific evidence that these hormones endanger humans. Privately, some key commission officials agree. But, there has been political pressure from European consumer groups to implement this ban.

In the late 1970s a number of children became ill after eating baby food that contained meat from calves' necks (where the hormones are injected). Although there were no deaths, stilbene - a hormonal substance - was banned by the EC. And, the EC ordered an inquiry into the use of other hormones in meat. But a committee of inquiry was disbanded when it became clear it would find no evidence beef-fattening steroids were damaging to humans.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence,the EC agriculture ministers voted to adopt the directive in December 1985. It took effect Jan. 1, 1988. But the ban angered the US administration, which threatened retaliatory trade sanctions unless the directive were postponed or canceled. Last-minute negotiations between the two sides led to a one-year breathing space.

This allowed both for existing EC stocks of hormone-treated beef to be unloaded until April 1, and for meat from the US and other third states such as Argentina and Australia to be sold in the EC until the end of 1988.

Ambassador Alfred Kingon of the US mission to the EC said, ``We're going to do our best'' to solve the issue before the end of this year. He said ``creative thinking'' on the issue was not ``at an end.'' But, he said the US believes the hormones are perfectly safe. ``We appreciate EC concerns,'' he said, but added that US exporters should not be penalized ``for doing something which is perfectly safe.''

Mr. Kingon said the US had hoped a European court of justice decision on Feb. 23 which annulled the directive would allow the EC ``to address our concerns.'' The court in Luxembourg ruled that the directive had been illegally adopted. But the EC's agriculture ministers simply readopted the directive - using the correct technical procedures - on March 7.

One more case pending before the court of justice could annul the directive. It is a case brought by a European association of drug producers asking the court to look at seven questions. These concern the legitimacy of the directive's contents, notably its lack of scientific backing for the hormone ban. A decision is expected toward the end of the year.

A March 24 article on beef hormones incorrectly reported that all US beef is injected with such hormones. Only a part of beef produced in the US is injected with hormones.

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