Member states adopt endocrine disruptor criteria

The new endocrine disruptor criteria will apply to plant protection products. [Fotokostic/Shutterstock]

This story, published on 5 September, has been updated to make clear the Commission’s draft criteria referred to biocidal products. Below is the updated story.

EU national representatives adopted on Monday (4 September) the European Commission’s draft criteria for endocrine disruptors in biocidal products, laying the foundation for a comprehensive strategy to limit citizens’ exposure to harmful substances.

The EU voted to ban endocrine disruptors in 2009. But so far the ban has not come into effect due to a lack of criteria defining the chemicals that it should cover.

Endocrine disruptors are chemical substances that are suspected of triggering diseases such as cancer or diabetes and contributing to people becoming overweight or infertile through changes to the endocrine (or hormone) system.

They are commonly found in everyday plastic products, food packaging and agricultural chemicals and can be absorbed by the body in a number of ways.

Monday’s vote was the first step in the EU’s adoption of these criteria for biocides, following their adoption on 4 July for plant protection products (pesticides). They are based on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of known and presumed endocrine disruptors.

Biocides are products that kill or control unwanted or harmful organisms, such as insecticides (outside use as crop protection products), insect repellents and wood treatment products.

Addressing endocrine disrupting chemicals requires an integrated strategy

The dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) for human health and the environment have long been documented and the evidence keeps piling up every day, yet Europe’s approach to this challenge has been lukewarm, writes Genon Jensen.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis hailed the vote as “a great success”.

“After months of discussion, we are advancing in the direction of the first regulatory system in the world with legally binding criteria to define what an endocrine disruptor is,” the Commissioner said.

Comprehensive strategy

The EU executive plans to use the same criteria to develop a comprehensive strategy to limit citizens’ exposure to endocrine disruptors, covering products such as toys, cosmetics and food packaging.

But the scientific basis of the criteria is not without its critics. French Green MEP Pascal Durand said in an interview with Ouest-France in July that excluding suspected endocrine disruptors from their scope undermined the EU’s precautionary principle.

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

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.

Durand said he was also “strongly opposed to the exemptions granted to certain endocrine disruptors that act directly on the hormonal systems of plants. These molecules will be authorised by exemption, but they can also have effects on human health.”

The MEP blamed the influence of powerful chemical industry lobbies but said the Parliament could force a review of the criteria with a majority objection.

The criteria will now be passed on to the European Council and Parliament for examination, before final adoption by the Commission in three months’ time.

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.

Subscribe to our newsletters