Endocrine disruptors: EU definition contains ‘too many exemptions and loopholes’

Pascal Durand [European Parliament]

After years in the pipeline, an EU-wide definition of endocrine disruptors was finally approved by member states on 4 July. But MEP Pascal Durand told EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France he is concerned the definition does not respect the precautionary principle.

EU member states last week approved the European Commission’s proposed definition of endocrine disruptors – chemical substances suspected of interfering with hormonal systems and causing a range of diseases, including cancers and fertility problems.

While France’s Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot welcomed the definition, environmental NGOs and Green politicians are concerned. Pascal Durand explained why.

Pascal Durand is a French Green MEP.

What is the context behind the signing of this definition?

In 2009, the EU adopted a law banning endocrine disruptors. But in order to apply this law, the member states had to define what an endocrine disruptor actually was. They had until 2013 to make a proposal.

The French government and Nicolas Hulot are right to say that the situation was blocked because the member states could not agree. The signature of the agreement on the definition will allow us to make concrete progress on banning a certain number of products and molecules.

Why are you not satisfied with this definition?

Environmentalists, NGOs and the independent scientific community do not believe this is a good definition. It is too restrictive and it offers exemptions that we do not accept, because they are too far-reaching. We have given too much ground to the German chemical industry, which placed too many exemptions and loopholes in the definition.

In the small print we see that it will only cover “proven” endocrine disruptors. But not “presumed” or “suspected” endocrine disruptors. This is extremely bad news for us because it undermines the precautionary principle. We clearly see that there are effects linked to these substances and we want them to be covered by the ban.

We are also strongly opposed to the exemptions granted to certain endocrine disruptors, those that act directly on the hormonal systems of plants. These molecules will be authorised by exemption, but they can also have effects for human health.

The scientific community is calling for all substances that are proven or suspected endocrine disruptors – after serious study and animal testing – to be banned. What is more, this exemption was not mentioned in the first discussions over the definition.

Aren’t you fighting a losing battle against the lobbies?

It is a struggle but we are not alone. People do not want to be taken hostage over their health, parents do not want to poison their children when they feed them. The people are really resisting.

It is the law of money on one side and the health of citizens and independent science on the other. The truth will come out in the end.

How do you plan to oppose this definition?

With a majority objection in the European Parliament, which will force a review of the definition back onto the agenda. That is our hope. Other options exist: the minister was right when he said national agencies would be able to work on specific molecules now that they have a definition. We will continue to make progress but we have wasted time.

Background

Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not?

Rising levels of cancers and fertility problems have attracted scientists’ attention to endocrine disrupting chemicals, with some calling for strict regulation of the substances, in line with the precautionary principle. Others meanwhile, stress the worthiness of those chemicals in everyday products such as plastics and warn that the foundations of science risk being turned upside down if precautionary measures are taken.