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The EU’s ‘independent’ scientific committees: too much industry influence?

A new report  “Chemical conflicts”, from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) – who specialise in exposing corporate lobbying – finds that two-thirds of scientists advising the EU on controversial substances have industry links.

CEO looked at four recent case studies of chemicals that had been examined by the European Commission’s Scientific Committees: parabens, nano titanium dioxide, nano-silver and mercury.

The Scientific Committees involved included the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR).

CEO found that 67% of the scientists who drafted opinions had at least one conflict of interest, while some had as many as 20 – due to their direct and indirect links with affected industries. Conflicts included working in a consultative/advisory role for industry, research funding, employment, ownership of shares or other investments and intellectual property rights.

In CHEM Trust’s view this report raises serious concerns.

The European Commission’s scientific committees provide crucial guidance for assessing the risk to humans and the environment of chemicals found in a huge range of everyday items, from shampoo to baby bottles. The failure to adequately regulate such chemicals could potentially cause great harm to human health and the environment.

It is vital that the scientific advice used in the regulation of potentially hazardous chemicals are of the highest quality and free from industry influence. CHEM Trust therefore encourages the Commission to look into ways of better separating the technical advice they need from the interests of affected industries.

In addition, CHEM Trust suggests this debate should also be seen in the context of the recent more general discussions on how the EU Commission should obtain scientific advice for decision making – see our earlier post, “Science policy is about debate and discussion – not one person working in secret“.