Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, passionately defended the European Commission’s role in a dispute over delayed proposals to regulate hormone-affecting chemicals, telling a Brussels event that “my services are not highway robbers with knifes in their hands”.
Speaking at a Commission event on Monday (1 June), Andriukaitis stressed that the scientific community and regulators worldwide were shaprly divided on endocrine disruptors.
The heated debate this triggered within the Commission is the main reason for the continuned delay in the EU’s endocrine disruptor strategy, the Commissioner stated in a prepared speech.
“These diverging views and evaluations were also reflected in the work of the previous Commission, among different Directorates-General. However, to assess these diverging opinions as a fight of enemies against other enemies seems beyond the pale for me,” Andriukaitis said.
The Lithuanian Commissioner was responding to a recent report by the anti-pesticide NGO PAN Europe which accused the executive’s health department (DG Sante) of using tactics to potspone the EU’s endocrine disruptor strategy, under pressure from industry lobbyists.
But according to Andriukaitis, these are only “conspiracy theories”.
“My services are not highway robbers with knifes in their hands. This is why we need transparency. This is why we opened the conference to all opinions and we are not afraid of any uncomfortable questions.”
The Commission’s environment directorate (DG ENV) had initially planned to propose a definition of endocrine disruptors by December 2013, paving the way for regulating the substances. But in July that year, the Commission’s Secretariat-General decided to undertake an impact assessment, delaying the long-awaited strategy.
This led Sweden to sue the Commission for breaching a bargaining agreement.
However, Andriukaitis reiterated the fact that decisions at the Commission are “collegial”, meaning all departmnents need to be involved. “I undertake to deliver on this important file as quickly as possible. But we cannot put the cart before the horse,” he said, adding “Without deep and rigorous assessment we are all prisoners of our emotions.”
The scientific criteria to define the hormone affecting chemicals is now not likely to be ready before 2017, four years after the initial deadline set by the European Parliament.
Known examples of endocrine disrupting chemicals include phthalates (a plastic-softener), brominated flame retardants (often used in household textile or furniture) and metals like lead and mercury. Some endocrine disrupting chemicals occur naturally, while synthetic varieties can be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food.
Rising cancer levels 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.
Other scientists, 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.
>> Read our LinksDossier: Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not?
2017: Likely year for publication of criteria and definition of endocrine disruptor.
- Announcements: Conference on endocrine disruptors