Leading Article: This war, at least, is silly and unnecessary

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The Independent Culture
WAR HAS always been a confusing affair, and trade wars are even more baffling. Precisely why the United States and Europe are about to fight a war in which Terry's Chocolate Oranges, Roquefort cheeses and cashmere sweaters are to serve as ammunition cannot be immediately apparent to the average consumer of these products on either side of the Atlantic. But, as with a real war, it is important to understand what this conflict is all about. It is, in truth, about an important principle, one that is worth fighting for.

The Americans want to sell us beef. Some of the beef has been raised using a bovine growth hormone. The Americans insist that it is perfectly safe. The British Government agrees with them. But the European Union doesn't, and has banned it. The body responsible for sorting out spats like this, the World Trade Organisation, has ruled in favour of the US, and said that the embargo should be lifted by 13 May.

While the EU waits for the results of its tests on the safety of the hormone, it wants a label clearly stating that the beef has been reared using it. The US will only order a label saying the meat has been approved by the US Department of Agriculture.

This seems an extraordinarily narrow territory for dispute. But the EU is right to be digging in. The ban should be lifted, but only if Europe's shoppers are told precisely what it is that they are being offered. The wording of the label is thus important. We are entitled to be given information about whether a product has been irradiated, injected with growth hormones or had its genes manipulated. Clear and comprehensive labelling is also the best way to ensure that the food industry avoids the devastating blights that arise when the fragile trust between farmer and shopper is broken.

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