The mills of the EU grind slowly when it comes to health policies

Since 2009, there have been talks in the EU about regulations banning hazardous chemicals that have been called a “global threat” by the WHO, but the deadline has just been pushed back further, until 2016. A look at a collision of interests between lobbies and health.

In the first hour of every day, we might get in direct contact with so called endocrine disruptors at least five times. You get out of the bed and get right into the shower, the favourite bodywash, one, helps with waking up. Next, you brush your teeth, two, before you go downstairs to get breakfast, some cereal and fresh fruit, three. You notice a pile of dishes and there are no clean cups, so for today the plastic cup, four, will have to do for coffee. Before you rush out, you decide to quickly do the dishes, five, so you can come home to a clean kitchen.

This list shows some of the most common ED containing products, cosmetics, pesticides on food and plastic. Another product that contains ED in controlled and intended doses is the birth control pill, which in this case is meant to mimic certain hormones. This function is not intended when it also applies to food or cosmetic products.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called endocrine disruptors a “global threat that needs to be regulated” in their state of the science report of 2012, but also that the impact of exposures cannot be fully determined until later in life. Speculated effects are a heightened risk of breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer, Parkinson and autoimmune-diseases.

The dose makes the difference

But if the chemical hormones are that common and potentially potent, why is there so little public debate about it? It is a very complex subject, with different studies arguing about the degree of harmfulness.

The head of the Institute of Environmental Health at the Med. University of Vienna, Dr. Manfred Neuberger, sees the main danger of the ED in reproductive effects as well as impacts on the brain’s capacity. “All the substances we emit today, we will drink, eat and breathe in tomorrow”, explains Dr. Neuberger to Euroscope. According to him, discussion about this is long overdue.

In their first report, those are also among the main risks listed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a research body of the EU, in 2009, besides effects on the immune system, heart diseases and even an assumed increase of cancer risk. In a more recent report from 2011, they claimed endocrine disruptors should be “treated like any other chemical”. So why the change of hearts?

Playing the numbers

Following the European Parliament’s announcement in 2009 that the Commission had to implement regulatory policies by the end of 2013, the different interests groups immediately started releasing their own studies on the issue.

Several reports have been published to claim extensive costs and negative effects of the implementation of the regulations. The NGO PAN Europe analysed all reports in an impact assessment of their own.

The German study, conducted by the BfR, looked at a non-random sample of pesticides and left out most of the suspected ones, showing distinctive similarities to the lists of the studies of Sweden and the UK, all very hesitant about the regulations. A UK study calculated a loss of £ 225.000 per banned chemical per year, based on a substance that would not even be affected by the regulations, leaving out any alternative pesticides that could that could lower the loss further. PAN suggested that the studies must be considered as part of the political defence of ED substances that not only lobbies of big companies like BAYER have held up, but also influential member states like the UK and Germany.

At the same time lobbies stressed the economic disadvantage the regulations would give Europe behind the backdrop of the TTIP and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce got involved, the EU Commission agreed to delay any decision until an impact assessment would be made. The estimated duration of this process expands until 2016, which will mark a seven-year period of no changes since those changes have supposedly been decided upon at the EU.

It seems like for the EU it came down to business before pleasure for now, presumed that the health of the general public is a pleasure. It is left to see if the slowly working mills of the EU will get the job done in the end. Until then, more independent research is needed to improve knowledge and make the regulations fair for both sides. In addition, there are ways for consumers to avoid contact with the chemicals, especially when it comes to cosmetics, for example by checking products through the App “ToxFox” or by resorting to organic products.

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