Speaking at a seminar to discuss TTIP issues, Gina Tumbarello, director of international policy and trade with the American Feed Industry Association, said the EU adopted a precautionary, "better safe than sorry" approach, compared to the US’ method of risk assessment, and this led to difficulties across a range of issues, such as the use of ractopamine in pork production.
She said there was a tendency within the EU system for consumer opinion to carry greater weight, sometimes to the detriment of science-based evidence. She pointed to recent pronouncements in the EU reinforcing opposition to certain US practices. "They have come out in the midst of trade negotiations and reiterated that they’re not prepared to negotiate on issues like animal drug use.
"The EU is the second-largest market for pork consumption, consuming 23m metric tonnes. The US is the lowest cost producer in the world, but there’s not even 5,000 metric tonnes exported there. A lot of this has to do with EU stance on ractopamine, and we don’t believe it is based on science. This EU ban is a violation of rules under the WTO agreement.
"The EU is in the unique position that they take into consideration the views of consumers. Opinions that can be formed from things read on the internet. The EU is not adhering to things based on sound science."
One example of consumer opinion affecting trade was highlighted by another speaker, Dr Paul Aho, founder of consulting company Poultry Perspective. He said the issues of the use of chlorine washes in US poultry production was being used as a technical barrier to trade, with strong consumer backing against the practice.
However, he said that only around 20% of US producers used chlorine washes in production, with most using a peracetic acid wash for microbial control – a process that was approved by EU regulators. "To exclude chicken from the US into the EU is a classic technical trade barrier; the real problem is that the profitability of EU producers would decline slightly."
Poultry trade has been held back by trade restrictions and, generally, only around 12% of global chicken production is traded, with 88% being eaten domestically. Aho said the chicken trade was one of the most highly regulated, and barriers were the rule, not the exception.
Tumbarello added that it was unlikely there would be any major shift in production attitudes and processes within the US to comply with standards demanded by the EU, whether that was on animal welfare and sustainability, or production processes and drug use. "There might be some voluntary shift from some producers to meet the demands of a particular market, but I have a hard time seeing overall change in US production to meet those demands."