News that the US is mulling the implementation of restrictions on EU dairy imports by May 21 has angered EU officials, who say that foot and mouth disease is under control on the European continent.


An official from the EU Commission commented: “At a time when we expected they would be rolling back the restrictions, they are moving the other way. We are not happy.”


The US department of agriculture (USDA) insists that no decision has yet been made on the import restrictions, which would primarily affect some European soft cheeses and products containing casein, a milk protein used for baking and prepared foods. USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz stressed that a scientific review is underway to assess the risk of the goods transmitting foot and mouth disease to the US, but the industry admits that the concerns are based on studies compiled at least twenty years ago.


According to European officials, there is no scientific evidence that foot-and-mouth disease can be transmitted through cheeses or casein, and many have pointed to another motive for the import restrictions. US dairy farmers have complained that increasing imports of casein from the EU are eroding the US price support programmes for dairy products.


If the restrictions were implemented, all dairy products entering the US would have to meet certain processing requirements. Casein would need to be treated at the ultra-high temperatures necessary to kill the foot and mouth virus. Cheeses must either be similarly heat-treated or have aged sufficiently. This would affect more than US$600m of annual European exports, an even larger blow than the US ban on EU meat products, implemented on 13 March and affecting US$400m worth of products


The US is believed to be mulling an EU request that any restrictions are applied only to the areas affected by foot and mouth, but a recent letter to US agricultural secretary Ann Veneman from the French ambassador to the US argued that any new restrictions are “a blatant violation” of WTO rules. He continued: “The need for more stringent measures appears to be totally unfounded in the light of the current situation.”