Yesterday, following one year of discussions about the Commission’s proposed criteria for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), member states’ representatives voted in favour of allowing the process to move further. The vote was primarily for plant protection products, while the ambition from the Commission is that these criteria should be used horizontally across EU chemicals regulation. A flurry of press releases was sent out yesterday from a number of stakeholders, with the Commission opting for the headline “Endocrine Disruptors: major step towards protecting citizens and environment” in its own PR.
The reaction from my side is mixed. On the one hand we cannot afford any more delay in the process of getting these long-awaited criteria in place. Every delay prolongs the current exposure to EDCs. On the other hand the now-voted version has some serious flaws and loopholes, making it possible to argue against almost any substance being identified as an EDC.
In practice this means we will end up with very tough substance-by-substance discussions. During these discussions the guideline documents currently being developed by ECHA and EFSA, together with the derogations to be developed for pesticides, will be very important. While the criteria themselves have been discussed under relative transparency, the process of establishing the guidelines is less transparent, and the process for finalising the much-criticised derogations is unclear. It is in these documents we may find the devil in the details, and there are many of us who fear that not even well-known EDCs, such as the SIN List EDCs, will easily be caught by that process.
Throughout the process, three countries in particular have stood up against the proposed criteria from the Commission, arguing that these are not protective enough. And again, Sweden and Denmark held this position while France turned and accepted the proposal, resulting in a qualified majority in favour of the criteria. Interestingly this was not done without negotiation from France’s side.
In a press release from the French Ministry of Ecology it said that in return for its vote, France got the Commission to commit to a number of actions against EDCs. These include an EU-wide strategy for toys, cosmetics and food packaging, the immediate implementation of the new criteria to substances currently being re-assessed, and an additional 50 million euros for EDC research. In addition, France promised even more activities at national level.
The immediate reactions from parts of industry, NGOs and the Greens were however that the Parliament should use its veto to reject the proposal, albeit on different grounds. The reason why parts of industry are disappointed with the current criteria proposal is exactly what I believe is its main advantage. This is that potency is not part of the identification of EDCs, which is also the approach recommended by scientists.
The Greens and NGOs maintain the position that the criteria, even when potency is excluded, require too high a burden of proof to be able to identify important EDCs and thus cannot function to protect human health or the environment.
The Parliament and the Council now have three months to examine the proposal before adoption, however it is unlikely that the Council will vote differently than the member states did at the meeting today, and this why Parliament will be the next stage for these discussions.
So, today another chapter was written in the on-going saga. Next we can expect a tough discussion on whether or not Parliament should reject the criteria, and there will be a new public consultation on the guidelines in autumn. It will also be very interesting to see what the new commitments by the Commission will deliver in practice.
While this criteria process may seem never-ending I find it reassuring that the use of the SIN List is constantly growing, and that at least the 32 important SIN List EDCs are being targeted for substitution by many companies, as well as through procurement, ecolabelling and other voluntary processes. While the pressure from consumers and supply chains to phase these out has been there for a while, they are also being tackled one by one by the REACH process, so the only way to go is to leave them behind.