Endocrine disruptors: a new failure in Brussels

It was the representatives of the Member States of the European Union, gathered in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Safety, which had to examine its proposal. The criteria should eventually allow to ban these chemicals capable of interacting with the hormonal system of living beings, and related to a multitude of common diseases: cancers (breast, prostate, testicle), infertility, congenital malformations, obesity and diabetes but also developmental disorders such as autism, hyperactivity and a decrease in the intelligence quotient.

“Unrealistic level of proof”

The Commission’s proposal has been the target of much criticism since it was announced on 15 June 2016 by non-governmental organizations, several Member States, including France, but especially the scientific community. The learned society Endocrine Society, in particular, challenges its ability to achieve its goal of “protecting the public from these dangerous chemicals”. The industry also expresses its dissatisfaction, but for other reasons: it fears the withdrawal from the market of about twenty pesticides. The criteria are first and foremost decided in the context of a 2009 regulation which concerns the placing on the market of pesticides, but should then apply to all European legislation directly or indirectly affecting chemicals. At the European political level, however, we consider this hostility as proof that we havedone a good job”.

What do they blame for these criteria?

First, an “unrealistic level of evidence,” according to the Endocrine Society. Indeed, the Commission wishes to regulate only known endocrine disruptors: those whose demonstrated effect is the “consequence of an endocrine mode of action”. Despite the insistent demands of France, Denmark and Sweden, it refuses to identify them according to a system of categories inspired by the classification of carcinogens: endocrine disruptor suspected, presumed or known. A gradation that would allow the authorities to establish priorities in terms of measures, research, but also information of the population.

If the vote has not formally taken place, the opinions of the different Member States are known. France, Sweden and Denmark were against the proposal of the European executive. Associative sources, Poland, the United Kingdom, Greece or Belgium abstained, while Germany, Spain or the Netherlands were favorable.

Another provision that does not pass: a derogation slipped in December 2016 in a last minute paragraph. The Commission then introduced an exception by rewording, in very technical terms, an old request from the pesticide industry.

It stated that pesticides designed to be endocrine disruptors for certain pests can not be removed from the market because they target their hormone system. Our confreres of the World had revealed that this derogatory provision resembled, trait by trait, an idea formulated by agrochemists Bayer, BASF and Syngenta, and published in the scientific literature in 2013. And that this preferential treatment could concern more than 8,700 tons of products per year, just for France, according to the calculations of the NGO Generations futures.

More than three years late

In its third and latest version, Brussels went further, adding an environmental issue to the health aspect of the dossier. Not only were endocrine disrupting pesticides “by design” to have derogatory status, but they could not be removed from the market if they touched all organisms of the same taxonomic branch as the target insect. In other words, an endocrine disrupting pesticide can affect all organisms in the same family as the pest, without being banned. Even if these organisms play an auxiliary role in agricultural systems (pollination, soil quality, etc.).

The Commission is therefore continuing to build on its long delay – now over three years. The criteria had to be adopted in December 2013. Failure to comply with the legal deadline had resulted in the European Court of Justice convicting him in December 2015 for violating EU law.

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