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Blog: MEPs prioritise EDCs in the Commissioner-designate hearings

HEAL’s reaction to the hearings of the two European Commissioner-designates (“Health” and “Environment”) on endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Brussels, 30 September 2014 – Endocrine disrupting chemicals emerged as a key issue for many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in their questions to hearings of the Health Commissioner-designates for Health today and the Environment Commissioner-designate yesterday.

Several MEPs expressed their concerns about how the protection of health from hazardous chemicals would be ensured in the new Commission structure. This is good news as it implies that MEPs will be closely watching to ensure that the new Commission brings out EDC criteria to protect human health.

However, it was worrying that in his hearing yesterday, Environment Commissioner-designate Mr Karmenu Vella (left) seemed to lack the understanding of the severity of the EDCs problem, and also appeared not to be aware that he is the one who can launch the new EDC strategy.

HEAL was relieved today to hear some seemingly encouraging answers from Health Commissioner-designate, Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis (right). For example, Dr Andriukaitis said he wants objective scientific criteria to identify EDCs. Fortunately, respected reviews of the evidence are available, including from the world’s leading health authority, World Health Organization (WHO), which has called for urgent action.

HEAL was also pleased that Dr Andriukaitis mentioned the need for vigilance as that may imply he is more willing to pay attention to the early warnings on potential widespread chronic health problems from EDCs.

Another plus is that he mentioned possible EDC impacts on future generations, which are an important and particularly worrying characteristic of EDCs.

However, he did not directly reply to the question about whether the EDC criteria would be specific to pesticides and biocides, nor whether decisions would be influenced by the desire to minimise impacts on business, nor whether the criteria would be horizontal (apply to chemicals used in other sectors than pesticides and biocides) and hazard based.

As a medical doctor, Dr Andriukaitis said he was committed to the Hippocratic oath to “Do no harm”. HEAL hopes that this commitment coupled with the “three words that define his thinking: prevention, promotion and protection” of public health will prompt him to act decisively on EDCs, even though 100% causation has not been established. Bans on smoking were introduced before the biological mechanisms of causation were established and consequently health benefitted enormously.

Special concerns

Although it was positive that Mr Vella stressed that he intended to work together with Mr Andriukaitis on this issue, the EDC strategy falls in Vella’s portfolio and he seemed to lack the understanding of the gravity of the issue. He failed to give a commitment to push through any files relating to his mandate despite the fact that former Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik has declared the new EDC strategy as ‘ready to go’.

HEAL is also worried that the biocides file and competence for criteria on EDC biocides has been moved from DG ENVI to DG SANCO. “Any switching of horses in midstream poses a danger that the rider might fall off the horse and get wet or worse. It’s crucial that the momentum of the ED policy process is not slowed down nor the content weakened. If cutting edge EDC science is to be properly incorporated into the outcome then DG ENVI’s expert work, in clarifying that a potency cut off has no place in scientifically robust EDC criteria, should remain a central component."

Another concern is that he made clear in response to a direct question on EDCs that the complexity of the issue means he will need to dig more deeply into the issue and get advice from specialists and experts. However, this is what the Commission has already done extensively; now, it is time for explicit policy commitments.

Perhaps HEAL’s main concern is whether the vested interests of the commercial entities (such as the pesticides manufacturers) in maintaining market access for endocrine disrupting pesticides and biocides will be given priority. Human health and environmental protection should obviously be the main consideration.

Overall, it is impossible to tell from the hearings how the importance of EDC policies will fare. But, as stated earlier, we hope that Dr Andriukaitis will keep his word to set EDC identification on objective scientific criteria.

Sustainability in the new EU Commission

After following both hearings, HEAL continues to be concerned about a possible downgrading of EU environmental and public health policy. EP President Schulz wrote last week to President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker on concerns about the omission of sustainable development and the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7EAP) in the current EU Commission structure and mandates. HE asked for the responsibility for pharmaceuticals and other health technologies be moved back to DG SANCO.

We think that Mr. Juncker’s answer to this letter is wholly inadequate, and renew our call for sustainability to be inserted into the structure and mandates of the new Commission. It should be a clear responsibility of one Vice President. Without the change in structure to include sustainability there is also the risk that business concerns will prevail over the goal to protect health and the environment in relation to EDCs.

Trade and health

Finally, a word about the impact of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on health both through its impact on environmental policies, and its impact on health sector matters. Dr Andriukaitis stated that he is committed to safeguarding health standards in the TTIP talks - but the devil is in the details. HEAL has grave concerns about further elaborations of “regulatory coherence” and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS. The Trade Commissioner-designate did not rule out that ISDS would be excluded from TTIP but she did say its exclusion would be regrettable, and that she thought ISDS should remain.

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Last updated on 21 October 2014

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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