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WTO backs sanctions over beef

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization Thursday approved a U.S. and Canadian request to impose sanctions against the European Union because of its ban on hormone-treated beef imports, trade officials said.

The WTO also agreed to an EU request for a neutral arbitration panel to assess the amount due. The panel should report back by mid-July, delaying the implementation of any sanctions until then.The United States wants to impose retaliatory sanctions against $202 million of EU exports to compensate for lost trade. Canada has threatened sanctions on trade worth $51 million. The EU contends those figures are too high.

Washington hasn't named the final products subject to sanctions, but a preliminary list included canned hams, pork, beef and poultry, various tomato products, Roquefort cheese, truffles, onions, chestnuts, paprika, goose liver, chewing gum, chocolate and mineral water.

The prohibitive tariffs would be aimed at knocking European products out of the U.S. market to retaliate for Europe's ban on American beef from cattle treated with growth hormones.

The EU maintains that some of the hormones may cause cancer and is conducting further scientific studies on their safety. It has refused to lift the ban, even though the WTO has ruled it is illegal.

The "mad cow" scare in Europe sent beef consumption plummeting, and political leaders are worried about provoking a consumer backlash -- and upsetting the powerful farming lobby -- over hormone-treated beef.

Some 90 percent of the beef produced in the United States and Canada uses hormones approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make cattle grow faster and bigger.