As part of a compromise reached back in May between the EU, US and Ecuador, the Bush administration on 1 July suspended sanctions against EU products worth US$191.4m – thus ending an 8-year battle over banana imports.

The Clinton administration imposed the sanctions after the EU refused to comply with a World Trade Organisation ruling that the EU’s banana import barriers were inconsistent with WTO rules.

Under the banana settlement, Europe has agreed to gradually increase its quotas for bananas grown in Latin America until 2006 when a tariff-only system will take effect.

“This process represents a serious effort by the United States and the EU to manage our differences in a spirit of mutual respect,” said US trade negotiator Robert Zoellick.

Still unresolved are 100% tariffs on a different set of US$116.8 million worth of European goods – trade retaliation for the EU’s restrictions on US hormone-treated beef.

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In other trade news, the US Commerce department has published new regulations that should clear the way for US sales to Cuba of products including food, food additives, soft drinks, livestock, tobacco and other agricultural commodities. The regulations follow a law enacted last October to relax the almost 40-year-old economic sanctions against Cuba.

Other news

The US House of Representatives has directed the FDA to develop food-label disclaimers that no child slave labour was used to grow and harvest cocoa for chocolate products sold in the United States.

The US State Department says 15,000 children ages nine to 12 have been sold into slave labour in the Ivory Coast, a major supplier of cocoa, in recent years.

A ‘no child slave labour’ label would reward firms that took steps to assure how their cocoa was grown – “huge leverage” for change, said Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY).

The amendment was added to the agriculture funding bill providing US$74.4bn for the USDA, FDA and other agencies in fiscal 2002.

Also added to that bill was US$2.5m for the USDA to improve enforcement of the Animal Welfare and Humane Slaughter Acts. US$1m will be used to enhance humane slaughter practices, requiring that hogs and cattle be unconscious when they are butchered. Another US$1m will be used to help enforce the Animal Welfare Act and US$500,000 will be available to the Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics for development and demonstration of technologies to promote the humane treatment of animals.

A USDA-proposed rule that would allow supermarkets to display nutrition information for fresh meat and poultry on posters and brochures rather than labeled on packages continues to be challenged.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) claims that consumers need to know how much saturated fat and calories are in items such as roast, steak and chops.

“It is inexcusable that the USDA doesn’t plan to require “Nutrition Facts” labels on most fresh meat and poultry packages,” said Bonnie Liebman, CSPI director of nutrition.

The meat industry disagrees, arguing that packaging labels are impractical.

“Because there are more than 3,300 cuts of beef alone sold at retail, it would be extremely difficult to label each product sold from every species with nutrition information,” said the American Meat Institute’s Sr. VP for Regulatory Affairs, Mark Dopp, in a letter to USDA regarding the rule.

CSPI also takes issue with the fact that the proposed rule would exempt ground meat and poultry from rules on claims like “80% lean” or “85% lean.”

“It is time for the current Bush Administration to finish what the first Bush Administration began – requiring nutrition labels on all meat and poultry and closing the loophole for deceptive “percent lean” labels on fresh ground meat and poultry,” said Benjamin Cohen, CSPI senior staff attorney.

CSPI also went after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July for that agency’s failure to protect US consumers from the health risks associated with contaminated shellfish. Two reports in July – one from the US General Accounting Office (GAO) and the other from CSPI – criticise FDA’s seafood safety program and the shellfish industry for failing to take aggressive steps to reduce Vibrio vulnificus-related deaths and illnesses.

According to CSPI, restaurants and stores should not buy Gulf Coast shellfish that have been harvested from April through October unless they have been treated to kill the bacteria, and consumers should not eat raw oysters, clams or mussels unless they have been treated. The group also urged the FDA to set microbial standards for shellfish and to limit the regulatory authority of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference.

The FDA contends that only people especially vulnerable to the bacteria, such as diabetics, people with liver disease or suppressed immune systems, need to avoid raw Gulf oysters.


One of the last administrative vacancies left at the USDA was filled in July with the appointment of Elsa Murano as USDA undersecretary of food safety. Murano is currently an associate professor of Food Science and Technology at Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science. She is also the director of the Center for Food Safety at the Institute of Food Science and Engineering. Farm groups, consumer organisations, and environmentalists have eagerly awaited a candidate for the top food safety official.

Check back next month for updates and new developments.

By Pam Ahlberg

Pam can be reached by email at: