After a delay of more than two years, the criteria defining hormone disruptors could be presented at the meeting of the College of European Commissioners on 15 June, Le Monde reported on Friday (20 May). EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health, had promised MEPs in February to present the criteria for the definition of endocrine (hormone) disruptors by this summer. Their publication was originally planned for December 2013.
Hormone disruptors are already mentioned in two European regulations, one from 2009 on biocides and the other from 2012 on crop protection products, but they remain undefined.
This is a highly sensitive and significant issue: under these two regulations, any pesticide or crop protection product judged to be a hormone disruptor will have to be withdrawn from the market.
The chemical industry, which is highly active on the subject, lobbied the Commission to carry out an assessment focussing on the economic impact of withdrawing these products. As a result, the definition project has fallen behind schedule.
After a legal challenge launched by Sweden (and supported by France) in December 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union convicted the Commission of “breach of duty” over the delay.
The General Court of the European Union on Wednesday (16 December) backed Sweden, saying that the European Commission breached EU law by failing to publish a definition for hormone-affecting chemicals or ‘endocrine disrupters’.
A “closely-guarded secret”
According to Le Monde, this study has apparently already been finalised and written up in the form of a 250-page report, but is being kept as one of “Europe’s most closely guarded secrets”. It is allegedly “locked somewhere in the European Commission’s maze of corridors, in a room kept under surveillance, which only around forty civil servants have accreditation to enter”, the journalist Stéphane Horel wrote the French newspaper.
Questioned on the subject by Le Monde, the French Minister for Ecology, Ségolène Royal, asked the Commission to “show [her] this document and to make it public”. On the future criteria for the definition of endocrine disruptors, the minister said, “If they are not in line with the scientific consensus, particularly if they include the notion of ‘potency’, Sweden intends to pursue its litigation with the Commission. And France will join them.”
According to the analysis of several experts, the notion of ‘potency’, defended by the industry, could seriously undermine the relevance of these criteria. In a study published this April, a group of European researchers found that the consideration of potency would constitute a return to a system of “risk” analysis, while only an analysis of “danger” would be appropriate for endocrine disruptors.
This point of view was also defended by 23 international experts at a meeting organised in mid-April by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which was attended by representatives from the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
More and more women are finding it difficult to get pregnant, with mounting evidence suggesting chemicals used in plasticisers and pesticides are responsible. The consequences are estimated to cost the EU €1.4 billion per year. EurActiv Germany reports.
Vote of no confidence
MEPs have been vocal in their criticism of the Commission’s stance on endocrine disruptors. On 12 May, the Italian Five Star Movement MEP Piernicola Pedicini (EFDD group) even submitted a motion of censure on the executive.
While it never stood a realistic chance of being adopted, the motion did have some surprising outcomes: the Greens, which are highly active on the subject of endocrine disruptors, refused to associate themselves with a motion initiated by the Eurosceptic EFDD group. But Pedicini did collect signatures from a number of members from the extreme right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENL) and the radical left GUE/NGL groups, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the founder of the French Left Party.
As expected, the Parliament announced on Friday (20 May) that the initiative had failed to assemble the number of signatures necessary for a vote to be held. But the motion would have reached the threshold had 16 GUE/NGL MEPs not withdrawn their signatures.
Approached for comment by the Journal de l’Environnement, the political group was unable to give an immediate explanation for this strange decision.
The EU’s decision to postpone the decision on the reauthorisation of the weedkiller glyphosate has been highly controversial, but nowhere is opposition to the chemical stronger than in France. EurActiv France reports.
Graeme Taylor, the director of public affairs for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), said, "Endocrine disruptors can and should be treated like most other substances of potential concern; that is, subject to risk assessment, considering both hazard and exposure. The issue of endocrine disruptors is one that is complex and we hope that the final decision taken on this issue will not overlook that complexity in favour of a decision that has significant consequences for consumers, farmers, trade, research and innovation in the EU, and beyond."