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A bad Xmas present: new EDC criteria proposed by European Commission should be rejected (Update 22nd of December)

The long process of establishing EU criteria to identify hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs) continues to stutter forward, with a new proposed texts from the European Commission. These texts, coming just a few weeks since the last texts, fail to address our concerns regarding the burden of proof needed, and introduce a whole new loophole which aims to allow continued use of hormone disrupting chemicals as biocides and pesticides even if they might cause harm to wildlife. The texts are due to be discussed by EU Member States’ Government experts on 21st December (see Update below).

The Commission’s new proposals are available here.

The three issues with the current drafts are as follows:

1) The new texts continue to require too high a burden of evidence before a chemical can be identified as an EDC, see our last blog for details.

2) We suspect that the Commission are still proposing an unacceptable loop hole which allows continued use of endocrine disrupting pesticides, by changing the derogation in the Plant Protection Products (PPP) Regulation from ‘negligible exposure’ to ‘negligible risk’ (see our last blog for more on this). We are expecting them to continue with this approach despite a recent article in Le Monde which alleged that the Commission had manipulated the EFSA opinion that they use as a justification for this regulatory change. It has also recently come to light that the Commission has also argued that this change would reduce trade-related problems with the US and Canada.

3) In a surprise addition, the Commission has, at the last minute, introduced a substantial new exemption which undermines the protection of wildlife. They now propose that substances which act “by regulating moulting and/or growth of harmful organisms via their endocrine system” should not be considered as EDCs for ‘non target organisms’.  This exemption means that other organisms may be harmed, such as benign invertebrates (eg. insects) which have moulting hormones, especially if these pesticides are not quickly degraded in the environment.  It is also quite possible that, as hormones have been conserved in evolution, these chemicals may have hormone disrupting effects on other species, such as vertebrate wildlife like frogs, fish or birds. In addition, the criteria for endocrine disrupting substances are supposed to apply to all such substances, irrespective of subsequent risk management measures; this is particularly important given that the ED criteria will have implications for other uses under other EU laws.

Ninja Reineke, Senior Policy Advisor at CHEM Trust, said:

“This new exemption opens the door to the widespread exposure of wildlife to substances that are potentially harmful to many species. The European Commission should be focussing on protecting Europe’s natural environments and citizens, not on protecting the use of harmful chemicals and appeasing trade-related lobbying from other countries.”

Once experts from EU governments have approved the proposals they will be scrutinised by the European Parliament and European Council, who are able to veto the Commission’s proposal. If agreed, the criteria will immediately apply in the regulation of pesticides and biocides, though both laws have derogations allowing continued use of particularly important chemicals under special circumstances.

  • Update, 21st Dec: The Endocrine Society has criticised the revised proposed criteria, and the French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal has written to European Commission President Juncker saying that the proposed criteria would reduce protection of public health and the environment.
  • Update 22nd Dec: On 21st of December the proposed EDC criteria were discussed by the Member States’ experts on biocides and at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants Animals Food and Feed (SCOPAFF). However, due to opposition from many Member States the Commission did not submit the proposals to a formal vote. One of the most contentious issues was the new surprise addition to exclude some chemicals intentionally designed to disrupt the endocrine system from identification and therefore prohibition (see our explanation under point 3 above).  An article in Le Monde from Tuesday,20.12., has called the new proposed exemption a `major gift to the pesticides industry´.A Commission spokesperson said they will now reflect on the best way forward for both the Plant Protection Products and Biocides texts.  A next regular meeting of the PAFF Standing Committee is scheduled for 23th and 24th of January 2017.Gwynne Lyons, Policy Director at CHEM Trust, said:It is encouraging news that many Member States did not accept these flawed proposals. The Commission should really start listening to those who want to ensure higher protection of health and the environment. 

The reaction of the EDCFree NGO coalition can be found here.