Brussels promises hormone disruptors definition ‘by this summer’

Hormone disrupting chemicals are found in many everyday objects, including rubber boots. [Steven Lilley/Flickr]

The European Commission has responded to criticism over its weaknesses on health and food safety with a series of goodwill gestures on hormone disruptors and glyphosate during a visit in Paris. EURACTIV France reports.

Europe’s inaction on endocrine (hormone) disruptors may soon come to an end.

Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis was in Paris on Thursday (3 March) for a meeting with French Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal.

He announced that the Commission will reexamine the status of certain chemical substances used in the manufacturing of plastics, which are suspected of damaging the human hormonal system.

“I confirmed to the Minister Ségolène Royal that the Commission intends, by this summer, to present a list of criteria defining hormone disruptors, based on the one used by the World Health Organisation (WHO),” the Lithuanian Commissioner told the press in Paris on Thursday.

France supports the WHO’s classification system, which divides hormone disruptors into three categories: proven, probable and possible.

“I appreciate the Commission’s willingness to accelerate its action on hormone disruptors and to present its conclusions by this summer,” Royal said.

Prolonged blockage

Efforts to regulate hormone disrupting chemicals have been blocked in Brussels for several years.

The executive was supposed to have adopted criteria for the identification and classification of these chemicals by December 2013, but kept delaying its decision, arguing more research was needed into the health effects of the substances.

Commission, chemicals lobby deny delaying tactics over hormone disruptors

The European Commission and the chemicals industry have rejected claims, revealed by leaked emails in a new NGO report, that they actively sought to slow down work on the definition of criteria for regulating hormone disrupting chemicals.

Sweden got tired with waiting and brought the case to the European Court of Justice, which condemned the Commission’s inaction in a ruling adopted last December.

The issue will now be discussed by EU environment ministers who are meeting in Brussels today (4 March).

Sweden wins case against Commission on endocrine disruptors

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’.

Hormone disrupting chemicals can be found in many everyday products such as detergents, cosmetics, textiles and paints. They are often used in plastics, including rubber boots, shower curtains and certain kinds of food containers.

Scientists have linked these substances to rising cancer rates and falling fertility, and many have called for stricter regulation of their use as a precaution.

Along with Sweden and Denmark, France took a leading role in the debate and proposed helping the Commission by suggesting to classify the chemicals in three categories based on the level of certainty of the scientific community over their impact to the hormone system – “verified”, “presumed” and “suspected”.

France urges ‘quick action’ on endocrine disruptors

Paris has placed the EU’s endocrine disruptor strategy on the agenda of a meeting of environment ministers on Thursday (12 June), saying the effects of some chemicals on the human body are now sufficiently documented and call for urgent action at the European level.

The EU’s 28 environment ministers seem to share that view. At the Brussels meeting today, they are expected to issue a statement “underscoring the importance of urgent action by the Commission to comply with the General Court’s judgement and its legal obligations, in order to prevent any further delay in developing the criteria for endocrine disruptors”, according to a background note circulated ahead of the meeting.

Ban on glyphosate

Back in Paris, Ségolène Royal and Vytenis Andriukaitis also discussed other sensitive public health issues that have not been adequately tackled by the executive, including glyphosate.

“We raised a lot of subjects at this meeting,” the French minister said, adding that she expected Brussels to adopt a “more offensive” stance on certain issues.

Glyphosate, a powerful weedkiller suspected of being carcinogenic, is already partially banned in France, and its authorisation at the European level is also set to be scrutinised when it runs out in June this year.

Monsanto’s Roundup

The main component of Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup, glyphosate is classed as “probably carcinogenic” by the International Cancer Research Center (ICRC).

According to NGOs Générations Futures and Foodwatch, the European executive had planned to renew the chemical’s authorisation.

“The Commissioner assured me that the ban enacted in France would be spread to cover the whole of the EU,” Royal said.

Andriukaitis confirmed that member states would discuss the regulation of the herbicide in the days to come, and should agree on “a ban on herbicides based on glyphosate mixed with tallowamine-based co-formulants”.

“I commit to working with the member states to draw up a list of co-formulants” that could pose a health risk, the Commissioner said.

The Commission has delayed the publication of a number of reports linked to health and food security, leading to both internal and public criticism of the executive's commitment to these issues.

Questions over the inclusion of alcoholic drinks in food labelling laws, origin labelling for meat products, the definition of endocrine disruptors and the potential benefits of legislation on trans fats have all been left to gather dust as the Commission has reduced its workload.

  • 4 March 2016: Environment Council meeting in Brussels
  • By summer: Commission to table definition for hormone disrupting chemicals

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