Report: Scientists who attacked EU chemicals policy had industry ties

Chemicals REACH scientist.JPG

Seventeen scientists who publicly criticised EU plans to regulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been linked to regulated industries, according to Environmental Health News.

The journal conducted an investigation of 18 toxicology journal editors who signed an editorial on the European Commission's endocrine-disrupting regulatory framework. It found that 17 of them had collaborated with the chemical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, tobacco, pesticide or biotechnology industries. 

The editorial, which was published in 14 scientific journals between July and September, criticised a leaked draft proposal by the Commission that recommended use of the precautionary principle and could lead to a ban of commonly-used chemicals.

The editors wrote that the EU's executive's plan was "scientifically unfounded", and defied common sense, established science, and risk assessment principles. It also had worrisome ramifications for science, the economy and human welfare, they wrote.

The EU's efforts to regulate hormone-affecting chemicals has been the world's first. The new rules would have sweeping, global implications because companies that sell a variety of products in Europe would have to comply.

Daniel Dietrich, a toxicologist who was the editorial’s lead author – and is a former advisor for an industry organisation – told Environmental Health News that any links between editors and the industry were an irrelevant discussion.

“We do not believe the discussion on the conflicts of interests will serve anybody because it takes away the focus from the real issue," Dietrich said.

Trust-based science

In February this year, a report by the Stockholm-based professor Åke Bergman, linked endocrine-disrupting chemicals with rising levels of cancer along with increasing brain, thyroid and reproductive problems.

Bergman said the editorial that criticised the Commission's policy proposal was an “unusual initiative” for science journal editors and called the links between the editors and the industry "worrying".

“I was very surprised by the editorial. I thought it was emotional and non-specific, a mixture of science and policy, and with too many errors," Bergman added.

Joseph Hennon, Commission spokesperson for the environment, told Environmental Health News that the Commission would use the best available science for guidance on its endocrine-disruptor regulations.

“We all want our decisions to be based on science. And we count on the scientific community to play its role and inform policy and decision-makers with facts and figures," Hennon said.

“The relationship between science and politics should be based on trust,” he added. “And we trust scientists to act independently for the benefit of all.”

The endocrine system is a network of glands which regulate and control the release and levels of hormones in the body.

Hormones are chemical messengers that are essential for the body to carry out functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. Only a tiny amount of hormone may be needed to trigger the intended action. The endocrine system is complex and interactions within it are dependent on a variety of biological and psychological factors.

Scientific knowledge of this system is still growing. Imbalances and malfunctions of the endocrine system can result in well-known diseases such as diabetes, obesity, infertility and certain types of cancer. Disruption of the endocrine system can also cause birth defects and learning disabilities.

  • Autumn 2013: Commission to publish new strategy on endocrine disruptors.
  • 2018: Next and last REACH registration deadline.

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