Iowa Public Television


Ban on U.S. hormone beef still festers; blame Mad Cow fears

posted on December 29, 2000

Slacking foreign demand has dampened oilseed and grain markets. However, the American appetite for red meat has returned. Cattle prices continue to trade at profitable levels as consumers rediscover "what's for dinner."

Pork prices also remain at profitable levels. Many in the industry had anticipated pork producers would increase their inventory to market dampening levels by now. But the most recent hogs and pigs report suggests that sort of glut has not arrived.

Still, most of the demand for American meat is domestic. While trade groups like to talk about the growth in meat exports, the fact is exports represent a fraction of consumption. This has not, of course, stopped meat from being the core of a long-running trade feud.

Ban on U.S. hormone beef still festers; blame Mad Cow fears The incineration in recent months of cattle contaminated by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Mad Cow disease, roiled European beef markets and briefly drove demand higher for non-bone meal based feed stuffs like U.S. soy meal.

But that market up-tick is a tarnished silver lining in an otherwise clouded trade relationship between the world's two biggest markets. The World Trade Organization found the EU's ban of American beef, grown with hormones, a violation of the global trade agreement. But, the Europeans are not backing down from the ban.

Under the WTO ruling the U.S. can levy 116 million dollars worth of punitive tariffs annually on European goods for the EU's failure to open its market to the hormone-grown beef. Even so the dispute is about to enter its 14th year. Indeed the punitive tariffs, generally on luxury items, have probably done more to punish American retailers than European consumers craving a hormone burger.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky insists some progress has been made on the issue, and that European reluctance to open the doors is driven more by the climate of fear stemming from Mad Cow than health concerns over American beef.

For their part the Europeans have agreed to triple the quota of 20-thousand tons of hormone-free U.S. beef. That is apparently a market that does not greatly interest American producers, since the existing quota limits have never been tested.

Tags: agriculture animals beef cattle diseases livestock Mad Cow markets meat news