Endocrine disruptors: EU Commission accused of defending agro-chemical industry over human health

The European Commission has presented long-delayed proposals setting out scientific criteria to address the problem of chemical substances that interfere with the endocrine system.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Jun 2016

Endocrine disruptors: Commission accused of defending agro-chemical industry over human health

These substances, called EDCs, have been recognised by the scientific community as a major threat to human health and the environment. 

After a delay of nearly three years, on Wednesday the Commission presented documents that lay out the criteria for identifying EDCs. 

These criteria are needed to allow existing pesticide and biocide regulations to function - and to become powerful measures for preventing hormonal cancers and other endocrine-related health conditions, such as diabetes and infertility.


However, the Commission was immediately accused of having "dashed all positive expectations" with a proposal that critics say "fails to protect Europeans from exposure to EDCs."

The Greens/EFA group was quick to hit out at the proposals, with environment and health spokesperson Bas Eickhout saying, "It is shameful that the European Commission is continuing to go out of its way to defend the line of the agro-chemical industry, instead of prioritising public health."

The Dutch MEP said, "Not only has the Commission proposed a very restrictive definition of what constitutes an endocrine disruptor, it has also proposed wider exemptions for them. 

"In doing so, it both breaks with established practices of classification of similar chemicals and goes beyond it legal mandate. Instead of learning the lessons of the European court ruling against it, the Commission has compounded the damage of delaying action on chemical substances that interfere with the endocrine system by proposing weak measures for dealing with them. 

"Defining clear and comprehensive criteria on what constitutes an endocrine disruptor is a crucial step for properly regulating these chemicals and, ultimately, reducing exposure to them. The only guiding priority under EU law should be to address the major public health problems caused by these chemicals. 

"However, the Commission is continuing to put the bottom line of a few agro-chemical companies ahead of public health. We will now have to build the necessary majorities in the Parliament to veto this shameful proposal." 

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said it was "astounded" by the proposal.

It senior policy officer, Lisette van Vliet, said, "What the Commission has proposed will not prevent diseases related to endocrine disrupting chemicals. The requirements are so strict, the burden of proof so high that we'll have years of harm to health before we can remove them. This is not what the legislation requires, which is, that EDCs may cause adverse effects are banned."

"Even worse, it would cripple the use of accumulated (and future) knowledge about effects on animals, which should be used to prevent harm to human health. A scientific consensus exists on how best to identify these harmful chemicals but the college of Commissioners have not chosen to follow it."

She added, "We call on member states and MEPs to block these criteria until and unless they are significantly improved - or vote to reject them. The criteria must include the World Health Organisation definition of potential endocrine disruptors and the modification to the pesticides derogation on negligible exposure must be eliminated."

However, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hit back, saying, "Endocrine disruptors can have serious health and environmental impacts and even if many substances containing them are already banned as a result of existing legislation on pesticides and biocides, we have to remain vigilant."

He added, "The Commission is committed to ensuring the highest level of protection of both human health and the environment, which is why we are today putting forward strict criteria for endocrine disrupters - based on science - making the EU regulatory system the first worldwide to define such scientific criteria in legislation."


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