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EU signals potential WTO action against SBV-related import bans

By Keith Nuthall , 14-Mar-2012

Related topics: Safety & Legislation, Beef, Lamb, Russia, EU

The European Union (EU) has signalled it is prepared to launch World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute actions should non-EU governments impose import bans on European meat and livestock over Schmallenberg virus (SBV) outbreaks.

A meeting of the EU’s Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) late last week concluded such restrictions would be “disproportionate and scientifically unjustified”. Under WTO rules, importing countries can only impose such health-related bans when backed by solid scientific evidence.

So far, only Russia has announced a ban on livestock – namely cattle and pigs – from 20 March, but its veterinary authorities are considering a ban on meat. Russia is in the process of joining the WTO after its membership was approved in December, but has yet to formally become a member, so an instant WTO case cannot be launched by Brussels.

However, with the disease detected in seven EU member states – 205 cases in Belgium, 879 in Germany, 486 in France, one in Italy, seven in Luxembourg, 143 in the Netherlands and 121 in the UK – other countries are considering bans.

The committee released a communiqué saying all EU governments “maintained the firm position that any trade restriction or request for additional certification on live animals or their products due to the occurrence of SBV in the EU are considered as disproportionate and scientifically unjustified”.

And with knowledge about the disease less than complete, the committee said targeted scientific studies would be co-financed by the EU. The committee was told of a significant decline in cases among cattle, sheep, goats and pigs in the past three weeks and a slight increase in malformed calves.

Also, the committee confirmed no pan-EU veterinary action was under consideration. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has concluded: “It is unlikely that this virus can cause disease in humans, but it cannot be completely excluded.”

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