This week ChemSec met with the Secretariat-General at the Commission discussing REACH and the REFIT process. The Secretariat-General is a very interesting entity. It has its finger everywhere yet it is very invisible; you rarely hear anything about it. So what is it? Well, basically it’s 600 people who have a lot of say in Europe’s policies and who answer to Jean-Claude Juncker.
One of the reasons for the meeting is the rumor about the Commission wanting to use the REFIT process to introduce a more risk based approach in chemicals legislation while reducing the hazard-based elements of it. Why is this so important? Well, the fact that Europe identifies chemicals based on their hazard profile – meaning their intrinsic potential to harm humans or the environment – rather than the risk is what sets the EU apart from other regions. The hazard-based approach is the best protection Europe has for its citizens against toxic chemicals. Risk advocates argue that if you limit the exposure to a toxic chemical it doesn’t pose a problem. And in a sealed off environment, sure, then I’m poised to agree. But the global marketplace is far from a sealed off environment. It’s impossible to predict all possible exposures during the entire life of a product or article.
But the hazard approach is not only about protecting citizens or the environment. It is also a very effective driver of innovation of new and safer chemistry. Time and time again we see how anticipation of upcoming regulation of chemicals creates a demand for safe alternatives in the marketplace, which innovative chemical producers then meet. Since a more risk-based approach undoubtedly would lead to less chemicals being regulated it would at the same time pull the switch on this demand, meaning less innovation and more business as usual.
Many companies and brands at the end of the supply chain understand this. They don’t want hazardous chemicals in their products. Do you think the furniture retailer wants a carcinogen in its sofas, even if it would be legal, strictly speaking? Of course not, imagine the backlash if the customers found out about it.
This trend of sustainable chemistry might be a slow train, but it’s definitely picking up speed. Let’s hope Mr. Juncker and the Secretariat-General stays on board.
Senior Policy and Business Advisor