French lawmakers denounce EFSA’s ‘toxic’ pesticides assessments

The letter insists that, by disregarding the cumulative 'cocktail' effect of multiple chemicals, EFSA is in breach of EU regulation, something the agency refutes [SHUTTERSTOCK]

More than a hundred French lawmakers have joined forces to denounce the EU’s evaluation of pesticides and demand that the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) step up its assessments in line with EU regulation, a criticism that the agency rejects.

In a letter sent to EFSA, the signatories, who include both EU and national deputies, take umbrage with the fact that the cumulative effects of the different components of plant protection products are “totally ignored by the assessment practices of health agencies”.

“EFSA evaluates only the substance declared active by the manufacturer and therefore without looking at its cumulative effect, with other substances present in the final product, known as the ‘cocktail effect,'” said the letter, published Thursday (25 February).

The letter was prompted by a study carried out in late 2020, which found a number of undeclared toxic products present in 14 pesticides, including “several heavy metals and other toxic formulants”.

The study demonstrates that there are “many loopholes” in the assessment of pesticides used in the EU, according to the signatories. This led to the launch of a citizen campaign, ‘Toxic Secrets‘, which has since garnered more than 14,000 signatures.

“In our work, we have pointed out all the defects and limitations of the procedure (independence, resources, etc.). Today nothing has changed and I’m very happy with this initiative to finally get things moving,” commented MEP Eric Andrieu, one of the signatories of the letter.

Flouting EU regulation

The letter insists that, by disregarding the cumulative ‘cocktail’ effect of multiple chemicals, EFSA is in breach of EU regulation and does not comply with the ruling of the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.

The court’s 2019 ruling concluded that potential effects of a combination of the constituents of plant protection products are legally required to be taken into account both in the procedure for the approval of the active substances and for the authorisation of the plant protection products.

In view of that, signatories demand that EFSA correctly apply European regulation as interpreted by the court ruling, threatening to lodge a legal complaint if their concerns are not addressed within two months.

“This dramatic situation, which is still relevant today, must be changed for the health of ecosystems and of everyone,” the letter said.

EFSA report offers snapshot into pesticide residues on food

EFSA published its annual report on pesticide residues found in food in the European Union on Thursday (2 April) which found that the food commodities analysed were “unlikely to pose concern for consumer health.”

A spokesperson for EFSA told EURACTIV that the agency stands “firmly behind” the integrity of its risk assessment processes, insisting that these are “always carried out in compliance with the relevant EU regulations”.

“The EU pesticides legislation states that EFSA carries out a scientific assessment on single active substances and not on pesticide formulations,” they said, adding that pesticide formulations are checked for safety and for impurities before being used in the EU.

However, EFSA conceded that a number of pesticides have similar effects and their impact on human health could be “greater in combination than individually”.

EFSA’s annual 2020 report found that one-third of the food consumed in Europe contains residues of two or more pesticides.

“This is why EFSA has developed methodologies to carry out cumulative risk assessments of pesticide residues in food,” the EFSA spokesperson pointed out, adding that work on a targeted methodology to address the combined cocktail effects of pesticides is currently underway.

As such, EFSA has carried out two pilot cumulative risk assessments of pesticide residues, including one exploring chronic effects on the thyroid system and another looking at effects on the nervous system.

“EFSA continues to work on assessing the cumulative risks of pesticides and on refining the methodologies it uses in this complex area of science for the protection of public health,” they stressed.

Addressing the effects of the cumulative and combined effects of chemicals is a key aim of the EU chemicals strategy, adopted back in October 2020, which emphasises the need to accelerate work on methodologies that ensure existing provisions can be fully implemented.

EU chemicals strategy to address pesticide chemical cocktails

The EU chemicals strategy adopted on Wednesday (14 October) aims to address the cumulative and combined effects of chemicals, including pesticides, stressing a need to accelerate work on methodologies that ensure existing provisions can be fully implemented. 

[Gerardo Fortuna contributed to this reporting; Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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