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EU May Lift Ban US Poultry

by 5m Editor
13 October 2008, at 4:50pm

EU - There are signs that the European Commission may soon lift its ban on imports of US poultry. The sticking point is over the routine treatment of poultry carcasses in the US with a chlorine wash, a measure banned in the EU. The compromise would allow whole carcasses to be treated in this way but they must be rinsed in water after treatment and specially labelled.

The Guardian of the UK reports that the European Commission may end months of dithering this month by calling for an end to the EU's 11-year ban on US poultry imports, but the proposal risks defeat by EU farm ministers, officials said on 10 October.

The dispute over chlorine-washed chickens has soured the European Union's relations with the United States, its largest trading partner, since the EU embargo was imposed in April 1997.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen have fought hard to end the dispute, with Mr Verheugen saying publicly that scientists had found there was no reason to continue the ban.

Mr Verheugen supported the idea of lifting the ban, imposed because US poultry producers use a low-concentration chlorine wash on chickens, as a goodwill gesture in efforts to reduce non-tariff trade barriers on both sides of the Atlantic. That specific washing practice is not permitted in Europe.

But his Commission colleague in charge of food safety, Androulla Vassiliou, was much less keen and included strict conditions in her proposal to end the trade restriction.

That annoyed Washington, with a US official saying at the time the proposed EU conditions were the "functional equivalent of leaving the ban in place". Vassiliou retorted that they were "strict, yet proportional".

So in July, Mr Verheugen blocked Ms Vassiliou's proposal at the highest Commission level, which resulted in indefinite deadlock since the Commission has to agree internally on a policy proposal before it can be presented to EU member states.

Now, Mr Verheugen's opposition to Ms Vassiliou's version of lifting the ban appears to have dissipated, officials say, paving the way for the Commission to approve it.

"It is now unblocked and should go through the College meeting on 21 October," one EU official said, referring to the Commission's full weekly meeting. "It will be the same proposal, with no changes. Then it will be sent to Council (of EU agriculture ministers)."

Ms Vassiliou's proposal includes a rule that only whole poultry carcasses - not parts or cuts - may be treated; a single substance is used in slaughterhouses before carcasses enter the chilling room; potable water is used for rinsing; and poultry meat must be clearly labelled to say it has either been 'treated with antimicrobial substances' or 'decontaminated by chemicals'.

That still leaves the final say with EU governments, nearly all of which want the ban to stay in place. Current EU president France, also the bloc's agricultural has been particularly vocal in its absolute opposition to lifting the EU ban. At a vote of national EU-27 experts in June, for example, 26 countries voted against the Commission's plan to lift the ban - only Britain abstained, The Guardian report concludes.

5m Editor