As there was no qualified majority in what is called the indicative vote, the Commission refrained from calling for a formal vote at the standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed.
The Commission will now have to further re-draft its proposal.
The Brussels executive had earlier drawn up a list of scientific criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors in plant protection products and biocides.
Present in plastics, pesticides and cosmetics, endocrine disruptors are natural and chemical substances that can alter the functions of the hormone system, with undesirable effects on people and animals. These include congenital deformities and neuro-developmental disorders that can lead to diabetes and obesity.
As it was uncertain to get a majority in the vote on Wednesday, the Commission divided the contested proposal in two. The first scientific part contained an environmental component and a human health component, which was the subject of strong criticism from the relevant scientific community, NGOs and certain member states.
They all criticised the “inadequacy” of the draft text to protect the population from diseases linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors, including cancers, brain development problems, infertility and diabetes.
The second part of the proposal, on regulatory aspects, also contained a substantial derogation. If this was retained, the risks posed by endocrine disrupting pesticides would be assessed on a case-by-case basis after being placed on the market.
This part was considered illegal by the European Parliament, NGOs and some countries.
On Tuesday, Belgium Federal Minister of Agriculture, Willy Borsus said Belgium would not support the Commission text on endocrine disruptors.
Reaction to the news was swift, with Greens/EFA group MEP Bas Eickhout saying, “I am relieved that enough member states have refused to support the Commission’s proposals, which were not fit for purpose.
“Under the Commission’s criteria, it is likely that not a single substance would be identified as an endocrine disrupter, and they would effectively escape specific regulation. The Commission must now go back to the drawing board and set out criteria that would genuinely protect public health.
“We need to put citizens' health first and that means applying the precautionary principle.”
He added, “The Commission has instead advocated a worrying shift in the burden of proof. While there obviously needs to be an adverse effect, as well as a link to an alteration of the endocrine system, it is unacceptable to require evidence about the endocrine mode of action.
“This would go way beyond the definition of the World Health Organisation, which does not refer to any requirement to show the mode of action.”
The Dutch member said, “If we followed the Commission approach for dangerous substances scientifically recognised for their hormonal disrupting properties, such as Bisphenol A or PCBs, they would slip under the radar.
“Their harmful effects are well known, as is the fact they affect the endocrine system and that the two are linked, but their exact mode of action remains unclear."
Stéphane Horel, of Environmental Health News, said, “The proposal is supposed to implement a very strict provision of the European regulation on pesticides: the ban on pesticides that will be recognised as endocrine disruptors.
“If the devil is hiding in the details, the paragraph inserted by the Commission at the last minute is anything but anecdotal. While the ‘pesticides regulation’ requires removing endocrine disruptors from the market, the paragraph creates a derogation from identification for a whole group of pesticides that have the particularity of being endocrine disruptors.”