Trade should trump health concerns in hormone disruptor debate, US tells EU

Lettuces are the foodstuff most contaminated with hormone disrupting chemicals in the EU. [liz west/Flickr]

The European Union published its public consultation on hormone disrupters on Friday 24 July. Europe’s trading partners fear the economic impact of tighter regulation, Journal de l’environnement reports

Almost two years after the original due date, the EU is still waiting for the Commission to set defining criteria for endocrine (hormone) disrupters. As part of the public consultation launched in September 2014, the European Commission offered several possible criteria for the substances.

From the total of 27,087 respondents, 21,548 were individual citizens or consumers, 95% of whom completed the survey in support of a campaign by EDC-Free Europe. The remaining 500 responses came mainly from governments, companies, industry representatives and agricultural unions.

The results of the consultation may be somewhat predictable, but responses from some of the EU’s most important trading partners show more concern for the economic implications of potentially restrictive legislation.

US warns of trade implications

First among these is the United States, whose response was particularly direct. It said, “creating technical regulations on the basis of hazard-based criteria are often more trade restrictive than necessary because risk-based mitigation measures exist, and do not fulfil a legitimate objective as they are not supported by scientific evidence.”

Adopting a system based solely on the hazardous properties of substances, like France advocates, “could have severe implications for EU imports of US agricultural goods,” the American government added. 

The governments of New Zealand, Australia and Canada made similar remarks, while Argentina highlighted the importance of upholding the World Trade Organisation treaties on trade barriers and phytosanitary measures.

France preaches safety first

France, by contrast, preaches safety first. Paris considers that “the definition must be based only on the intrinsic hazards of substances, with socioeconomic elements only being taken into account at the management stage.”

According to the French position, “the level of exposure of the general population to certain recognised or suspected endocrine disruptors shows that it is important to act quickly to prevent adverse effects. In addition, the costs of the negative effects caused by endocrine disruptors can be extremely high and reducing these could have major economic benefits.”

>> Read: France urges ‘quick action’ on endocrine disruptors

The next step in the process, strongly backed by industry bodies, will be an economic impact study. Only after this study will the Commission make its final decision on hormone disrupting chemicals.

This article appeared on EURACTIV France.

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: Probable publication of defining criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors

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