The European Commission has published a chemicals in pesticides. The new set of rules are based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of an endocrine disruptor. Studies have shown these endocrine disruptors are present in some pesticides and other chemicals, and have a detrimental effect on our hormonal system.
The proposed criteria has received criticism from industry and lobby groups. A spokesman for the pesticide industry said the stricter rules could cut EU cereal production. The Endocrine Society also expressed concern that the criteria may be too strict to effectively protect the public.
The following blog will look at some of these concerns in more detail.
Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
So what exactly is an endocrine disruptor?
Our endocrine tissues produce hormones that are secreted into the bloodstream and regulate the body’s growth, metabolism and sexual development and function. These tissues include the ovaries, testes, adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands. Endocrine disruptors have been found in chemicals like pesticides, and we can be exposed to them through everyday products like food, medications, cosmetics and more.
Endocrine disruptors have been on the EU’s agenda for some time now. It was all the way back in 2009 that the EU first made changes to their criteria. The rules went from being risk-based, which measured the likelihood of human exposure to dangerous chemicals, to a hazard based approach. This was considered to be a more catch-all approach, and received criticism from the pesticide industry.
In 2012, the United Nations Environment Program and the WHO expressed further concerns. They linked endocrine disruptors to a global rise in diseases and disorders including hormonal conditions, cancer, obesity and diabetes. They said improved methods were needed to assess the risks of endocrine disruptors.
The European Crop Protection Association, which represents producers such as BASF SE, Bayer AG and Dow Chemical, believe the new criteria may force chemicals off the market. In particular, it highlighted cereal production as an area that could come under threat.
“The criteria fail to distinguish between those substances which cause actual harm and others which pose no threat to human safety,” the group said in a statement on Wednesday. “This could lead to bans of crop-protection products with the same endocrine disrupting properties found in everyday products like coffee.”
Jean-Charles Bocquet, Director General of the industry association, believes as much as 40 percent of the 450 active substances in pesticides may end up being classified as endocrine disruptors. He used a class of chemicals called triazoles as an example. Triazoles are used to combat a wheat disease called Septoria - which can reduce crop yields by up to 50 percent. But triazoles will be classed as an endocrine disruptor under the new rules, and Bocquet believes there is no substitute with the same effectiveness.
The main European agricultural-lobby group, Copa-Cogeca, echoed these concerns. They say stricter restrictions will undermine the competitiveness of EU farmers, and is advocating a return to the risk-based approach pre-2009.
Failure to Protect Public Health
The Endocrine Society has also weighed in on the subject. They are a representing body for scientists and physicians who are experts in the field of glands and hormones.
According to their 2015 Scientific Statement, more than 1,300 studies have tied endocrine disruptors to health problems like hormone-related cancer, infertility and diabetes.
The Society has expressed disappointment in the European Commission's criteria. They believe the criteria is overly strict, and could result in very few EDCs being identified and regulated. It had campaigned for EDCs to be ranked in multiple categories based on available scientific evidence. This option would allow for new data to be incorporated as more studies are published.
The proposal must now be approved by the European parliament and member countries. This procedure also gives the 28-nation Parliament a veto right.
Groups like the European Crop Protection Association and Endocrine Society say they will continue to advocate for changes, albeit for very different reasons.
For more on the chemicals industry - check out the latest installment of our Analyst Q&A series. We spoke to Rob Outram, Director of IAL Consultants, to gain some insight and analysis into the latest developments in the chemicals industry.
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