The case dates back to 1988 when the European Union banned all imports of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones, a move that prompted US and Canadian sanctions of $125 million (€95.7 million) a year on European products from Roquefort cheese to truffles and mustard.
The EU and Washington had agreed in 2009 that the 27-member bloc would keep its ban on hormone-treated beef but that the US would gradually lift its sanctions in exchange for a steep rise in the EU’s duty-free import quotas of hormone-free beef.
The volumes of hormone-free beef exempted from taxes were put at 20,000 tonnes that year and are due to be lifted to 48,200 tonnes by August 2012, of which 45,000 tonnes for US beef and 3,200 tonnes for Canadian imports.
The United States lifted its import duties on all targeted European luxury foods in May 2011.
Although EU farmers had feared a surge in imports of North American beef, these failed to materialise as the United States became a net importer of beef after grain that formerly went to animal feed was used to make biofuels.
The EU has insisted its ban on hormone-treated beef, which is largely approved by EU consumers, rests on scientific evidence of health risks, though the United States and Canada reject such evidence.