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Friday 9 December 2016

Brussels briefing: Commission committed to ban on 'proven' endocrine disruptors

Sarah Collins

Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30

Jean-Claude Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker

Another week, another EU chemicals row.

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This time the fracas was over chemicals that interfere with hormones, known as endocrine disruptors.

The Commission last Wednesday (June 15) proposed guidelines on how to define endocrine disruptors that are present in pesticides and ­biocides, after a three-year delay.

Endocrine disruptors are found in weedkillers, food additives, cosmetics, plastic packaging and toys, and have been linked to infertility, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

One of the most notorious such chemicals is weedkiller glyphosate, which has caused a political storm in Brussels as its EU licence comes up for renewal and the science remains split over whether or not it causes cancer.

A 2012 report by the World Health Organisation and UN Development Programme said at least 800 chemicals are currently known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormones, but very few have been tested to see if they are actually harmful to humans or animals.

EU health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis said that EU rules are based on science and that if a chemical is found to be an endocrine disruptor, it will be immediately banned.

Unusually, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker intervened in the row, issuing a statement saying that the EU executive is "committed to ensuring the highest level of protection of both human health and the environment" and that it is the first jurisdiction to define scientific criteria for endocrine disruptors in law.

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But the problem with the European Commission's new guidelines, say some MEPs and health campaigners, is that they define endocrine disruptors too narrowly, and allow for too many exceptions. The rules are also restricted to pesticides, they say.

Campaigners at the Endocrine Society said it would be better to categorise endocrine disruptors based on the available scientific evidence.

The Commission faces an uphill battle to have the rules agreed by individual EU countries and the European Parliament, who are furious at the lengthy delay in getting the rules out.

Under EU law, the guidelines should have been proposed in 2013.

The Commission was sued over the delay and was told last year by the European Court of Justice that it had breached EU law by failing to act.

The issue is shaping up to be a glyphosate-sized row, with French health minister Marisol Touraine denouncing the Commission proposals for not being "protective" enough.

France has already banned one known endocrine ­disruptor, Bisphenol A, and is concerned the Commission's rules could reverse the ban.

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan said the Commission had "wasted a good opportunity to properly regulate for the protection of human health and the environment".

If the action which you are proposing is considered 'a notifiable action', you must make an application to the Department of Agriculture. In NHAs, SACs and SPAs, certain activities can only be carried out with the permission of the Minister. These are called Notifiable Actions and vary depending on the type of habitat. There are 39 notifiable actions including changing the type of farming activity on lands or erecting a fence where there is no pre-existing fence.

More recent regulations now state that all developments requiring an EIA will also need planning permission. An EIA attempts to predict the environmental impact of a proposed development. This is necessary for every application for planning permission for development on designated lands and is estimated to cost up to €4,000 for a 500m fence.

The costs will be higher if the issue goes to Bord Pleanala, without any guarantee of success. If their decision goes against a farmer, the final option is to appeal to the High Court. Landowners should be aware that there is a short window within which legal proceedings must be started and it can be expensive.

Falling foul of planning regulations can have serious consequences including fines and up to two years' imprisonment.

First steps on new food safety deal

EU parliamentarians and national ministers have reached a preliminary deal to improve food safety and avoid future crises like the 2013 horsemeat scandal. 

The agreement brings in more controls on food, feed, plant health, pesticides, animal welfare, protected geographical indications and organic farming.

It also allows for surprise inspections by the Commission and national authorities in all sectors and countries, including outside the EU.

The rules will introduce conditions on animal and product imports from outside the EU, and will provide for penalties for intentional violations.

The legislation aims to raise consumer confidence following the 2013 scandal, first picked up by Irish food inspectors, that saw horsemeat being fraudulently sold as beef in several EU countries.

Last week’s deal, MEPs hope, will eliminate fraud and introduce common principles all along the food chain, unifying rules which are currently spread over more than 15 different pieces of legislation.

EU ambassadors will vote on the preliminary agreement in June.

Opening salvos on fish quotas

The European Commission has issued the opening salvo in the EU’s annual fish fight, setting out a preliminary assessment of the state of fish stocks in European waters.

While it hasn’t yet set any quotas for the amounts of fish that can be caught in 2017 — that will come in the autumn — the Commission did indicate which stocks are doing better than others.

It said the Atlantic, North Sea and the Baltic Sea sticks were “sustainable”, while fish stocks in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea continued to fare poorly.

However, it did warn cod and whiting remain at low levels west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea.

Ireland’s quotas will  be unveiled in October as part of the Atlantic Sea proposals.

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