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United States Requests WTO Panel in Challenge of EU Restrictions on U.S. Poultry Exports

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced today that the United States has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute settlement panel regarding the European Union's (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 pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs) judged safe by U.S. and European food safety authorities is consistent with the EU's WTO obligations.

"The U.S. poultry subject to the EU ban is safe. There is no scientific evidence that the use of pathogen reduction treatments pose any health risk to consumers," said Nefeterius McPherson, a USTR spokeswoman. "We regret that formal WTO consultations and significant U.S. engagement over many years have not resulted in the lifting of the EU's ban on the import and marketing of poultry. However, we feel that we must move forward with WTO dispute settlement panel proceedings at this time."

Requesting a panel is the next step in the formal WTO dispute settlement process. The United States and the EU held consultations on February 11.

BACKGROUND

In order to produce poultry that is safe for consumption, both here and abroad, U.S. companies routinely process poultry, such as chicken and turkey, with cleansing techniques known as pathogen reduction treatments (PRTs).

In 1997, the EU began prohibiting the use of PRTs to reduce microbe levels on poultry carcasses sold in the EU, stopping the shipment of virtually all U.S. poultry. Since that time, the United States has attempted to address this market access barrier without litigation.

In 2002, the United States formally requested EU approval of four PRTs: chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, and peroxyacids, each of which was already approved for use in poultry processing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Various EU agencies have now issued scientific reports relating to the processing of poultry with these four PRTs. The cumulative conclusion of these reports is that the importation and consumption of such poultry poses no risk to human health. In addition, trisodium phosphate is approved for use as a food additive in the EU. On June 2, 2008, however, a committee comprised of the chief veterinary officers of the EU member States rejected a heavily conditioned European Commission proposal to approve the four PRTs by a vote of 26-0, with the United Kingdom abstaining. On December 18, 2008, the EU Agricultural and Fisheries Council, which is comprised of the agriculture ministers of the EU member States, voted against the same proposal in an identical tally. Neither body provided a scientific basis for their respective rejections of the Commission proposal.

Following a review of the formal consultations held on February 11, as well as other discussions with EU officials, the United States has concluded that it is time to bring this issue before a WTO dispute settlement panel.

The WTO Dispute Settlement Body will consider the request of the United States for the establishment of a panel at its next meeting, which is scheduled for October 23.