EU Safety Institutions Caught Plotting an Industry “escape route” Around Looming Pesticide Ban

EU Safety Institutions Caught Plotting an Industry

EU documents newly obtained by the nonprofit Pesticide Action Network of Europe reveal that the health commission of the European Union (DG SANCO), which is responsible for protecting public health, is attempting to develop a procedural "escape route" to evade an upcoming EU-wide ban on endocrine disrupting pesticides. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are those that alter hormonal regulation at very low doses to cause effects on behavior, reproduction, and gender, as well as cancer and birth defects.

In 2009, under the European Union's then-new chemical REACH legislation, a continent-wide ban on endocrine disrupting pesticides was agreed. The European Commission (EC) was charged with taking various steps to protect public safety. These included officially defining what constitutes an endocrine disrupting effect and designating acceptable chemical detection methods. The deadline to present these criteria for ensuring protection against endocrine disrupting pesticides expired on December 14, 2013.

Instead of providing the needed safety guidance, however, the EU's Health Commission (DG SANCO) appears to be drafting a procedural "escape route" around the endocrine disrupting ban. This legal maneuvering is being done behind closed doors and with the collaboration of some EU member states and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, an independent EU agency created to assess food risks for the Commission).

As initially revealed by the Pesticides Action Network of Europe (PAN Europe), only Sweden is opposing this escape route, which they consider to be an abandonment of the original democratic mandate. According to a report by Agence France Presse (AFP) Sweden is now going to sue the EU due to mounting evidence that harmful impacts of endocrine disruption are already being felt. AFP quotes Swedish environment minister Lena Ek:

"In some places in Sweden we see double sexed fish. We have scientific reports on how this affects fertility of young boys and girls, and other serious effects."

The documents obtained by PAN Europe show that the lobbying to undermine the ban is being led by EFSA. This is in direct conflict with the missions of both EFSA and DG SANCO which are to protect public health.

The crisis has come about because EDCs are the subject of a large body of independent academic research showing that certain synthetic chemicals are already causing developmental disabilities and cancer among humans and wildlife through non-traditional (i.e. hormonal) toxicological routes. This evidence is why the ban was instigated. Because of the strength of the evidence and the low doses involved (Vandenberg et al 2012), any rigorous and effective rules to protect the public are likely to result in widespread bans and restrictions on commonly used industrial, agricultural, and household chemicals. This is one reason why AFP also reported the Swedish Minister as saying that EU commissioners were under strong industry pressure.

Tony Tweedale, a Brussels-based independent consultant to NGOs, explained to Independent Science News, there is a second reason for industry pressure:

"That hormones are often disrupted at very low doses threatens to upset industry's decades-long total control of risk assessment which is based, for example on insensitive tests."

While missing their mandated December deadline for providing safety rules, DG SANCO and EFSA chose to perform an economic impact assessment of potential regulations instead. Now this economic impact assessment is itself 9 months late. Sweden and others have interpreted these delays as stalling a collectively agreed action.

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