The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute panel regarding the EU’s restrictions on imports of US poultry.

The WTO has been asked 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) is consistent with the EU’s WTO obligations.

USTR spokeswoman, Nefeterius McPherson, commented: “The US poultry subject to the EU ban is safe. There is no scientific evidence that the use of pathogen reduction treatments poses a health risk to consumers.”

The EU rules state that slaughterhouses can only use water, or other approved substances, to rinse meat products to diminish their bacterial contamination. The rule applies to all meat products sold in the European Community, irrespective of whether they are produced locally or imported.

The US had submitted requests for approval of certain substances used in the US for the cleaning of poultry carcasses, mainly substances based on chlorine, but the EU rejected the approval of these substances in 2008.


European Commission spokesperson for trade, Lutz Gullner, said: “We regret that the United States has decided to ask for a panel to be established in this case. We feel that litigation is not the most appropriate way to deal with complex issues such as this one. However, since the US has chosen this path, we will defend our food safety legislation, which does not discriminate against imported products.”

US poultry companies and organizations have applauded the USTR’s action, arguing the EU has deprived them of a fair opportunity to compete in the European market. They say that, despite the recommendations of the EU’s own scientific committees on the four antimicrobials at issue, the EU has continued to maintain a ban on products treated with them.

Ongoing dispute

In 2008, the EU imported more than 890,000 tons of poultry from third countries, mainly from Brazil and Thailand. The European Commission notes imports of poultry from the US have been marginal since 1997, when several US slaughterhouses were removed from its list of authorized establishments for not being in line with European hygiene requirements.

The USTR’s office points out that, in 1997, the EU began prohibiting the use of PRTs to reduce microbe levels on poultry, stopping the shipment of virtually all US poultry to the EU. Since that time, the US has attempted to address the market access barrier without resorting to litigation.