Pesticide risk assessment regulatory use designed and/or promoted by the industry

The chemical industry writes its own rules


Research done by the Pesticide Action Network reveals that in 92% (11 out of 12) of the EU-methods for pesticide risk assessment examined, it was the industry that designed and/or promoted their regulatory use. Industry is writing its own rules. This is a major conflict of interest. The cases concern criteria and methods (risk assessment methodologies) on HOW the rules of the pesticide Regulation 1107/2009 should be used in decision-taking on individual pesticides. In most cases European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, drafted the guidelines on the use of these criteria and methods. Such methods are used to dismiss tumours observed in animal toxicity testing of pesticides, to approve carcinogenic pesticides in our food, to classify polluting pesticide metabolites in our groundwater as irrelevant, to allow the dying of 50% of the insects in every spraying turn, to construct ‘safe’ levels for harmful pesticides without any experimental evidence, among others.

Industry, spearheaded by industry lobby group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute), developed their desired methods during the past 15 years in a series of invited-only meetings with industry employees and a few university professors that generally shared their views. Next it tried to get its allies in regulatory expert panels that draft opinions on the methods like the panels of EFSA, IPCS/WHO (World Health Organisation/ International Program on Chemical Safety), JMPR (WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues) and other agencies.

In 75% (9 out of the 12) of the risk assessment methods studied by the Pesticide Action Network, industry-linked experts managed to get
a seat in EU and global panels where these methods were produced. Generally there were only a handful of experts present in the panels that decided on far-reaching opinions about the methods. Only rarely were experts present in these meetings that are actively conducting experimental scientific work. In any case, not much science is used for drafting opinions on risk assessment methods in panels. “Expert judgement” is the prevailing practice, which is in fact just the opinions and ‘feelings’ of those that are present in the room. The global scientific societies that bundle the hundreds of thousands of scientists that do scientific research in the world are not involved nor asked to do a peer-review of these methods of risk assessment, which is the standard procedure for scientific work. In none, 0% (0 out of 12) of the methods studied by the Pesticide Action Network, the method was peer-reviewed by independent academic scientists.

Since a solid conflict-of-interest policy was lacking in the beginning of this century in most agencies, many expert panels have been dominated by experts that support the views of industry. In the case of TTC (Threshold of Toxicological Concern; a method to design safe levels for pesticides) up to 77% (10 out of the 13) of the experts in the EFSA-working group were linked to industry and were promoting this method in the past.

Food Authority EFSA is known for having close ties to industry. In 50% (6 out of the 12) of the methods studied by the Pesticide Action Network, EFSA and other agencies had exclusive meetings with industry on the design of the methods, sidelining other stakeholders.

Industry obtained most of its inspiration from the US where citizens are not protected by the precautionary principle and the burden of proof on harmfull effects of pesticides is put largely on the public. An entirely different system therefore from the EU system. Yet, in 67% (8 out of the 12) of the methods studied by the Pesticide Action Network, an US-origin could be seen. Without a doubt the US-type of risk assessment is invading the EU-system through the backdoor.

The 12 methods studied here all are designed to lower the level of protection of the public and to enable the approval of pesticide that can cause harm. On top of this, the methods adopted are even misused in practice. In 92% (11 out of 12) of the methods studied by the Pesticide Action Network misuse was observed in actual decision-making of EU pesticide approval.

A full revision of the EU risk assessment methods is needed, according to the Pesticide Action Network. Fully independent scientists that are actively conducting experimental work as a daily practice should be tasked to do this to protect the public with the newest scientific in sights and knowledge.

Continue reading Industry writing Its own rules, a research report written by the Pesticide Action Network Europe, January 2018.

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