Pesticide regulations with implications

December 2013

... for GM crops and food.

The European Commission (EC) is currently planning to update its regulations controlling chemicals to which the public are exposed. Two aspects critical to these efforts are proving controversial.

The first involves the determination of a 'safe' threshold for a chemical: if none can be determined, industry would have to demonstrate that the socio-economic benefits outweigh human health risks, or, that there are no alternatives.  

The second involves a requirement that endocrine disruptors must be removed from the market.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals which interfere with the function of oestrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones etc. They're found in many everyday products including foods and cosmetics. Chronic conditions such as reproductive and fertility problems [1], and cancers [2] may well be linked to exposure to such chemicals.

Establishing clear cause-and-effect links for hormone disruptors is difficult. Effects are long-term, and the level of harm is highly life-stage dependent: endocrine disruption during specific stages of development can have irreversible physical and physiological impacts. There's, therefore, little likelihood of defining any 'safe' chemical threshold which can be demonstrated experimentally.

What all this amounts to is that the EC's new regulations, which depend on defining thresholds for endocrine disruption, will be extremely difficult to draft.

The Commission is also having to contend with industry: due to the current widespread use of suspect chemicals, manufacturers are panicking and looking for loopholes.

One of the first moves to block the new regulations seems to have come through the back-door, in the form of an “unusual initiative” by some editors of science journals.  

If you thought that science journal editors (who are in a unique position to control what becomes 'science' [3]) are model seekers-of-the-truth, think again. Eighteen toxicology journal editors have waded into the political arena with an editorial declaring the EC's planned regulations to be “scientifically unfounded ... defying common-sense, well-established science and risk-assessment principles”, to have “worrisome ramifications ... (for) ... science, and the economy and human welfare the world over”, and to lack the “required scientific robustness needed for such an important piece of legislation”.

Why journal editors should suddenly band together to publicise an apparently pro-industry opinion isn't clear. One environmental chemistry researcher expressed his surprise at the piece because he found it “emotional and non-specific, a mixture of science and policy with too many errors”.

COMMENT. Given that these editors are experts in the field, the final criticism seems particularly serious.
The editorial has drawn two rebuttals signed by a total of 144 scientists and other journal editors (including an editor of the journal Endocrine Disruptors).

No doubt one of the “worrisome ramification” noticed by the band of editors is that the proposed regulations will compromise the use of the most common type of GM crop so far commercialised, the Roundup Ready varieties. Roundup herbicide is considered an endocrine disruptor because of its ability to impair the synthesis of steroid hormones, in particular sex steroids, and has been found to interfere with sex hormone receptors in embryonic cells.

OUR COMMENT

A good case for banning Roundup? Yes, but science journal editors must always keep a wary eye on who's paying the piper, no matter what the truth is [3].

The next wave of GM herbicide-tolerant crops may have even greater endocrine-disrupting qualities than the old Roundup-accumulating ones [4]. And, the Bt insecticidal proteins generated by whole lot of GM crops are a complete unknown: these certainly circulate in the bodies of mother and child [5] but endocrine implications have never been considered. 

The loopholes industry needs for 'business-as-usual' may already be built into the legislation. Weighing up “socio-economic benefits” verses “human health risks”, for example, is a value judgement easily subverted. And, there's no such thing as a technology which has “no alternatives”.

Ask your MEP to ensure that the EC closes these loopholes and puts your right to a safe environment and your children's right to a safe future before industry's one-dimensional chemical-dependent profits.

Background:

[1] ROUNDUP ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR - March 2012

[2] US PUBLIC HEALTH TRENDS AFTER GM - October 2013

[3] GM REALITY CHECKS - December 2013

[4] GM PESTICIDES INSIDE YOU - April 2011


SOURCES

 Stéphane Horel and Brian Bienkowski, Special report: Scientists critical of EU chemical policy have industry ties, Environmental Health News, 23.09.13

Silvia L. López et al., 2012, Pesticides Used in South American GMO-Based Agriculture: A Review of Their Effects on Humans and Animal Models, Advances in Molecular Toxicology, Vol.6

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