Hey. What's your beef?

The Beef War
Moanin' over hormones
Hormonal politics
Nutty, dangerous genes
Guessing game?
Udder woes


At home on the range.

Courtesy the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.


Masticating a mouth-watering morsel of hormone-raised beef.

Photo by Eric Zuelow and David Tenenbaum,
© The Why Files.


Steamed up over beef
3 JUNE 1999. A trade war -- a fracas in the feedlot -- is looming in the transatlantic tussle over beef. The European Union has branded beef that was raised with synthetic hormones as unhealthy and bans imports. That fences out most beef producers in the United States where most beef is treated with hormones to speed growth.

bulls grazing In 1997, the World Trade Organization (WTO) called the European ban an illegal restraint of trade because it was not based on science. The European Union says a future study will -- at some point -- document the hazards.

Food safety and beef are both hot topics in Europe, where Britons continue dying from mad cow disease. On this side of the pond, the United States is set to retaliate with high tariffs on a range of European products.

Just as the U.S.-European tiff over bananas nears resolution, beef cattle are trotting to the center of the corral, and the players are in place for a high-stakes trade war between allies.

One European official said it best: "Beef will make bananas look like peanuts."

On June 15, the European Union plans to halt the only remaining beef imports from the United States, about $30-million per year in hormone-free meat, after finding that some of that meat had been raised with synthetic hormones.

The larger issue concerns the ban on all hormone-treated beef. The U.S. meat industry says it could corral $500 million annually in sales but for the ban. Is Europe justified in "just saying no" to a questionable food product? (Here are their regs on the issue.) Is this dispute about protection from hazardous food -- or protectionism? And while we're thinking about the stuff we stuff into our faces, how safe is genetically modified food?

burger in cow

Let's take it from the top: Why use these hormones, and are they dangerous?

The Why Files
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©1999, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.

The Why Files Staff includes: Terry Devitt, editor; Darrell Schulte, webmaster; David Tenenbaum, feature writer