Towards a more comprehensive EU framework on endocrine disruptors

Health groups warn proposed change to pesticide law would undermine effective identification and ban of endocrine disruptors

Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) Press Release, 19/07/2018

A discussion on a controversial proposal to amend the European pesticide legislation started between representatives of European governments on 19-20 July. Health groups warn that such a change would undermine the provisions that foresee the ban of pesticides identified as endocrine disruptors and would only benefit the pesticide industry.

As the European Commission consultation on a roadmap for a framework on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) is coming to a close, a much less publicised process is starting behind closed doors. Representatives of European member states met in Brussels on 19 and 20 July to discuss a proposal by the European Commission to change the conditions that would allow derogations from the ban of endocrine disruptors planned under the pesticide legislation.

This is not the first time the Commission has proposed such changes. This proposal was originally discussed during the negotiations on the identification criteria for EDCs in 2016. Due to strong opposition from civil society and the public health community at the time, it did not garner the needed support by member states to be included in the criteria.

Following the agreement on identification criteria for endocrine disrupting pesticides in December 2017, it is now technically possible for European countries to ban pesticides that meet the criteria. The pesticide regulation foresees a possible derogation to such bans in cases of “negligible exposure” to the substance – namely conditions in which the exposure is well controlled such as in closed systems.

As brought to the public attention by HEAL’s member Pesticide Action Network Europe, the European Commission is suggesting to change the conditions allowing for such a derogation by replacing “negligible exposure” into “negligible risk”. This slight change of wording might first come across as harmless, but carries the potential to change the hazard-based approach that lies at the foundation of the pesticide legislation. If adopted, it would bring a risk element into the discussion.

This is problematic and should be opposed at all costs for several reasons:

  • The European Commission is suggesting a discussion on this proposal behind closed doors, using the comitology procedure, while the proposed changes touch upon the foundations of the pesticide legislation. Therefore, a fully transparent process involving the European Parliament and the Council (in co-decision) would be the appropriate setting for such a discussion.
    The fact that this is happening just as the public consultation on the roadmap for a framework on EDCs (which HEAL has already criticised for missing concrete measures to reduce exposure to EDCs) comes to a close, also raises questions on the Commission’s willingness to have a fully transparent and democratic debate on such a high profile public health issue.
  • The proposal brings a fundamental change to the hazard-based approach of the pesticide legislation. Based on the precautionary principle, the legislation considers that pesticides identified as EDCs should be banned by default, unless in case of “negligible exposure”. If adopted, the Commission’s proposal would introduce a risk assessment following the EDC identification, based on the flawed idea that safe conditions and levels of exposure exist for EDCs and the risk related to this exposure can be controlled. This would make the evaluation process of pesticides even more lengthy. It would also open a pandora’s box to industry arguments that attempt to justify that a risk is negligible under hypothetical conditions of use and wrongly promote a supposedly safe use of certain chemicals that the pesticide legislation explicitly singled out as dangerous to human health.
    This is even more worrying as the data used to assess supposedly negligible risks will be prepared by companies. While the current derogation in case of negligible exposure foresees that the exposure has to be well controlled (for instance in a closed environment), an approach based on risk would open the door to allowing for a much wider use of endocrine disrupting pesticides – for instance through spraying in the environment – when they should by default be banned under the law.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) together with members such as PAN Europe and partners of the EDC-Free Europe coalition will continue to oppose this proposed change. We urge member states to defend the existing approach foreseen in the pesticide legislation and strive for its full implementation in the future.

Author: DES Daughter

Activist, blogger and social media addict committed to shedding light on a global health scandal and dedicated to raise DES awareness.

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