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PAN Europe: the European Court’s chance to revolutionize EU pesticide policy

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Risk assessment

Currently, the EU's risk assessment of pesticides doesn't efficiently safeguard human health and the environment. (Photo © Pixabay)

In line with a court case on civil disobedience from French “faucheurs volontaires” (voluntary reapers), the European Court of Justice got 4 prejudicial questions from the Tribunal of the Pyrenean city of Foix (France) on the 12th of October 2017. In a shop, the accused activists broke containers of Roundup® (glyphosate). To defend themselves, the activists explained that the pesticide risk assessment within the EU is not protecting human health and the environment efficiently. Supported by the public ministry, the defendants’ attorney proposed to the court to send the questions to the EU Court.

Fundamental weaknesses in the EU's pesticide risk assessment

Sent by the judge to Luxembourg, these four questions concern fundamental weaknesses in the current pesticide risk assessment. In the past, PAN Europe has constantly emphasized that the EU pesticide risk assessment procedure is extremely problematic. As a result, dangerous chemicals are officially authorized to be applied on acres and are prone to end in food offered at European retail. However, PAN criticizes, decision makers often rather protect the agricultural business prior to the environment and the population’s health. The resistance to substantially improve assessment procedures is high and stops dangerous pesticides from being withdrawn from sale.

Asked in the light of the principles in the Rome treaty regard the following facts:

  1. The decision on which is the active ingredient in the complete product (formulation = active ingredient + co-formulants) is up to the pesticide company. The active ingredient only, not co-formulants, is assessed in more details for its toxicity. But not combined with their co-formulants, active ingredients wouldn’t have the same toxicity on the pest targeted. This can also be inferred for human or environmental toxicity.
  2. The pesticide companies themselves are carrying out their regulatory toxicity tests, their analyses and their evaluation. However, they have a commercial interest on the substance tested. This can lead in a biased assessment that may influence public regulators. In line with that, results of the studies are mostly kept secret from public scrutiny.
  3. Cocktail effects from a simultaneous exposure to various pesticides or to the different components of a single pesticide are not taken into account by EU pesticide regulations.
  4. By chapters 3 and 4 of the pesticide regulation (1107/2009/EC), companies are exempt from testing their pesticide (active ingredient + co-formulant) on endocrine disruption, reproduction toxicity, carcinogenicity and genotoxicity.

PAN Europe member and Save the Bees Campaign Coordinator at PAN, Martin Dermine, adds: “This is the absurdity of our regulatory system: an active ingredient is tested for its cancer potential but not the product that includes ingredients that may in fact, enhance the toxicity of the active ingredient. Studies that show that the product causes toxicity are actually excluded by norm by regulators. This is at the heart of the glyphosate dispute: the International Agency for Research on Cancer of World Health Organisation declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen by taking into account the studies on the complete product formulation. In EU however, EFSA assessed the health risks only of the active ingredient discarding all studies done on the formulation, even though this is exactly what people are exposed to.” The European Court of Justice has now 18 months to answer the questions.



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