In 1998, the WTO ruled the EU ban violated trade regulations because it isn't based on scientific evidence. WTO ordered it lifted. The EU has repeatedly failed to comply.

In May 1999, the WTO authorized the U.S. and Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs of 100% on imported agricultural products from the EU valued at $116.8 million. Pork, fruit juice and tomatoes account for about 62% of the products facing punitive tariffs.

EU trade ministers are now asking that the tariffs be lifted. The European Commission says it's found that oestradiol 17-beta growth promotant could cause cancer. Also, EU scientists claim evidence of harmful health affects caused by growth promotants containing testosterone and progesterone.

Previous scientific studies, even ones conducted by the EU, show the banned growth promotants pose no threat to human or animal health when used according to approved veterinary procedures.

There's no question the EU ban on imports of hormone-treated beef continues to be an absolute violation of international trade rules. The ban is a textbook demonstration of protectionism.

As U.S. agricultural organizations continue to slug it out with the EU over this issue, the question is: Would European meat consumers shun our beef even if the EU would surrender and lift the ban?

There's ample reason to believe that the perception of "hormone tainting" is deeply ingrained in the EU dietary persona (for example, see


, Oct, 2003 "Beef Chat-European Beef"). The reality is that it could take decades for the U.S beef industry to gain an economic foothold in those markets, a foothold that would be marginal and tentative at best.

Plus, the competition for the EU beef market is incredibly fierce today. And as Brazil and Australia brawl for position in worldwide low-quality beef markets, European consumers stand to be big winners. At least a half-dozen other countries have boatloads of beef headed for European ports every day -- beef that in many ways fits European appetites and culinary styles better than North American beef.

This won't set well with a lot of U.S. producers, but the fight seems to be more a war of wills and a few vested interests -- and a test of the WTO's authority -- than over any significant market access. At some point, our trade negotiators need to decide if it's really worth the effort. Is the pursuit of the EU beef market consuming energy that could be expended in other winnable battles -- in markets with more potential?

Of course, for what it's worth, the EU still has to live with the retaliatory tariffs applied by the U.S. and Canada.