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Daily News Blog

02
May

Europe Moves to Disclose and Restrict Endocrine Disruptors, While U.S. Rejects Action

(Beyond Pesticides, May 2, 2023) On April 20, the European Commission’s new rules on endocrine disrupting chemicals took effect. Called “Classification, Labelling & Packaging” (CLP), the rules create four new hazard categories for endocrine disruptors. The categories range from “suspected of causing” or “may cause” endocrine disruption in the environment to “suspected of causing” or “may cause” endocrine disruption in humans. After a transition period, users will have to indicate on labels and packaging if a substance falls into any of the hazard classes. All actors in the supply chain are obligated to provide the information to every downstream participant. The  new CLP rules, implementing a 2022 measure adopted by the European Commission and then the European Parliament, also specify a minimum font size for the hazard information and for the first time include standards for labeling in online commerce and in places where customers use refillable containers to transport, store, and use the chemicals.

According to the EU Directorate-General for the Environment: “The new hazard classes are the result of extensive scientific discussions and will provide easier access to information to all users of such chemicals, notably consumers, workers and businesses. They allow further action to address and mitigate the risks of substances and mixtures under other EU legislation such as REACH, while taking account of socio-economic impacts.”

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can replace or add to naturally occurring hormones whose delicate balance is essential for human and animal health. They can affect that balance at extremely low levels. The European Union (EU) has identified at least 50 pesticide active ingredients as endocrine disruptors. Their effects have been tied to obesity, endometriosis, declines in sperm counts and viability, thyroid malfunction, and many other endpoints.

Extending its Green Deal initiative, the EU adopted its “Farm to Fork” strategy in October 2021. As part of the program, in June 2022 it banned all pesticide use in sensitive areas, including urban greenspaces, parks, playgrounds, and areas set aside to protect pollinators. Further, Farm to Fork aims to halve “the use and risk of chemical pesticides” by 2030.

High Contrast with the U.S.

The EU action adds to the evidence that Europe is far ahead of the United States (U.S.) in protecting against endocrine disruptors. The EU has taken a markedly different approach than the U.S. to such chemicals. Political and economic pressure in the U.S. has kept the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) focus on risk (the likelihood of exposure) rather than hazard (the potential to cause harm), whereas the EU considers hazard first.

Focusing on risk has led the EPA to accept the industry’s suggestion that most people are unlikely to be exposed to dangerous chemicals, an approach belied by the mass of evidence demonstrating the ubiquity of many chemicals in humans and animals, such as the NHANES 2013-2014 data showing glyphosate is present in the urine of 81% of the US population over the age of six.

EPA is well known to have dragged its feet on regulating ED chemicals for decades. Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, amending federal pesticide and food safety policy and directing the EPA to implement its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program within three years. As Beyond Pesticides noted last January, two investigations by the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in 2011 and 2021, observed that the EPA had made no “meaningful progress” in implementing the mandatory endocrine disruptor screening program. The 2021 OIG report stated that “some EPA staff were instructed to function as if the screening program had been eliminated from EPA’s budget” even though the program had a budget that year of $75 million.

The U.S. still uses 85 pesticides banned in other countries, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. In 27 years the EPA has failed to test 96 percent of registered pesticides, according to a 2022 complaint against the EPA filed by the Center for Food Safety and four other environmental groups. The most recent action in that case has been to admit attorneys for CropLife America, an industry group, as intervenors for the defendant in the action. In its motion, CropLife claimed, both simultaneously disingenuously and candidly, that:

“its members are key stakeholders in ensuring EPA can meet its obligations under the Food Quality Protection Act (“FQPA”) to implement the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program…without imposing unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming barriers to pesticide registration…CropLife’s members have invested tens of millions of dollars in research and testing of their pesticides to provide assurance of their safety, and the value of their EPA-issued licenses would be significantly diminished by a finding that EPA violated federal laws in issuing them or failed to consider the risks of endocrine effects during the review process…if Plaintiffs obtain the relief they seek, CropLife’s ability to protect its members’ interests would be impaired….”

This statement illustrates what Center for Biological Diversity environmental health director Nathan Donley, PhD, observed in a 2022 Brookings Institution essay: “The EPA pesticide office tends to view its relationship with the pesticide industry as a “partnership” and often asks permission instead of acting decisively.”

But, Dr. Donley writes, the U.S. is shooting itself in the foot economically by failing to implement pesticide safety policies. This is because many other countries have already banned pesticides the U.S. does not, and will not accept imports of agricultural products bearing those pesticides’ residues. For example, U.S. cherry growers use dimethoate, a neurotoxic pesticide. France refused U.S. cherries for four years and then the EU set the maximum allowable dimethoate residue on imports to the detection limit, making it functionally impossible for U.S. cherries to be accepted. This cost U.S. growers an estimated $5 million. Some estimates put U.S. fruit growers’ export losses at $17 million per year owing to the EU’s pesticide residue limits.

What Is to Be Done?

The EU’s relative speed in regulating endocrine disruptors puts the EPA’s glacial pace in an even worse light. Still, in addition to the various lawsuits, there are other U.S. efforts to reform pesticide policy. Senate Bill 3283, the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act, was introduced in 2021 by Senator Cory Booker (although it has been languishing in committee). Congress could also ratify the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions, which regulate persistent organic pollutants and international trade in hazardous chemicals, respectively. Additionally, the U.S. could establish dramatic transition goals to eliminate endocrine disruptors in land management, which is required under the USDA organic seal of the Organic Foods Production Act. While U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced increased support for organic, the funds behind the rhetoric fall far short of what is needed to meet the current health crisis (including the impact of endocrine disruptors), dramatic biodiversity decline, and the climate emergency.

Concrete actions at the personal, local and regional levels may make a more effective and less frustrating difference. An organic diet can rapidly reduce the body burden of many pesticides, especially for children. Beyond Pesticides has partnered with activists and organic producers to support pollinators and reduce pesticide use, such as cosponsoring the Ladybug Pledge. Many communities are now following the “No Mow May” movement to leave lawns and gardens alone while bumblebees and other native insects establish themselves in the early spring. Eliminating reliance on endocrine disruptors and all toxic pesticides and fertilizers is possible in communities through Beyond Pesticides’ Parks for a Sustainable Future program, which helps towns/cities/counties transition their parks, playing fields, and open space to organic land management.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Directorate-General for Environment

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