Yet another impasse in European Institutions’ efforts to regulate Endocrine Disruptors (EDCs), chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems causing significant negative effects on reproduction, growth and brain development among others.
At the Standing Committee on Plants Animals Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) Pesticides legislation meeting on the 4 July 2017, after years of delays, Member States (MS) representatives voted in favour of the European Commission's proposal on scientific criteria to identify endocrine disruptors for plant protection products. While this outcome was vastly praised by the European Commission as “a great success”, civil society groups, including PAN Europe however expressed regret toward the decision, as according to them such criteria would “fail to provide an adequate level of protection of public health and the environment” as they are too lax and require too high a burden of proof to effectively deem a chemical has endocrine disrupting properties.
On October 3rd, PAN Europe had published a study on Endocrine Disrupting Pesticides (EDPs) in European Food, which found not only that more than one third of European food is contaminated with EDPs, but also revealed an interesting trend: fruit and vegetables produced in southern European countries contained the highest amount of EDPs (23-31%), however northern European countries are those who consume products with the most EDPs (32-42%).
During the scrutiny period following the adoption of the criteria by MS, the Council did not oppose the text (25 September 2017).
The European Parliament (EP), however, presented objections to the draft criteria through the ENVI Committee vote on September 28th - where two MEPs, Jytte Guteland from the Socialists & Democrats alliance and the GreenLeft's Bas Eickhout, argued that the Commission exceeded its powers by introducing a controversial derogation for non-target organisms which was fiercely criticised by civil society organisations, scientists and professionals in the field after Member States adopted the proposal in July. As it stands, the plant protection products (PPP) Regulation says an active substance may only be approved if it is not considered to have endocrine disrupting properties that may cause adverse effects in non-target organisms, unless their exposure is negligible. But the Commission's proposal says that substances, whose intended mode of action is to target harmful organisms via their endocrine system, may be approved - regardless of their effects on non-target organisms of the same taxonomic phylum. This "creates a loophole and changes an essential element of the regulation; a violation of the powers conferred to" the Commission, MEP Guteland emphasized.
The objection was adopted few days later, during the October 4th Strasbourg plenary session, by the whole European Parliament. This was a historic moment, where a majority of MEPs agreed in such a technical issue, revealing the public and political concerns behind the EDC criteria. Despite lacking legal power, this vote’s political significance means that the scientific criteria presented to Parliament cannot be adopted by the Commission.
According to Politico: “The Commission has to decide how to respond after the European Parliament refused to sign off on the criteria for EU pesticides law because it objected to a specific derogation, but approved the same set of criteria for the biocides regulation. Commissioners will now consider whether to follow the Parliament’s request and remove the derogation, which sought to exclude chemicals specifically designed to kill target organisms by disrupting the hormone system from being identified as EDCs”.
On Wednesday, 13th of December, EU Member States backed the European Commission's new revised proposal for criteria to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals. PAN Europe's related press release can be found here. PAN Europe Environmental Toxicologist Angeliki Lysimachou commented: "Despite the revised proposal being improved compared to the original one, and despite this being a step forward, the burden of proof required to identify an EDC as such remains far too high, with the result that few - if any - of these substances will end up being regulated. It is deeply disappointing to see that these crucial decisions related to human health and the environment are taken in a committee where Member State representatives interested in maintaining an intensive and highly unsustainable agricultural system outnumber those advocating for health and environmental protection. These people should not have a say about the protection of our children’s health and of the environment".