Case #1677.0

Food Fight: The US, Europe, and Trade in Hormone-Treated Beef

Publication Date: December 12, 2002
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Those familiar with transatlantic trade relations are well aware of the longstanding US-EU dispute over trade in beef. This note traces the history of the quarrel, beginning with the introduction of the use of growth-promoting hormones for raising beef cattle. In 1989, Europe banned the use of these hormones. The ban covered all beef, including meat imported from the United States where growth-enhancing hormones were widely used. In retaliation, the United States imposed punitive tariffs on approximately $100 million worth of European food imports. In the years that followed, the rules changed. New multilateral institutions and agreements were put in place to govern disputes like the beef quarrel such as the SPS Agreement negotiated during the Uruguay Round of trade talks. Despite these changes, the story was very much the same a decade later. Though the new World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the European ban, the EU continued to refuse beef raised with growth-promoting hormones. In 1999, once again, the United States imposed punitive tariffs on approximately $117 million on foods imported from Europe. The rules had changed, but the endgame remained much the same. At the core of the dispute lay fundamental disagreements about trade in food. The United States argued that the European regulatory process had been captured by politics. US officials were frustrated by what they saw as a political move to protect the EU beef market by invoking scientifically unsupported claims about the detrimental health effects of hormones. The real issue, Europe retorted, was that the US trade system had been captured by industry--the United States had soured the entire transatlantic trade relationship by capitulating to the demands of the corporate beef lobby. Furthermore, some consumer groups argued that it was not the role of a group of trade lawyers and diplomats at the WTO to make decisions related to health and safety.

Learning Objective:
The case can serve as a platform of discussion on the politics in international relations and in particular, trade agreements between countries that each aim to protect its own interests.

Other Details

Case Author:
Charan Devereaux
Faculty Lead:
Robert Lawrence, Michael Watkins
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States, Europe