How Europe’s Regulation of Pesticides Could Impact Your Food

How Europe’s Regulation of Pesticides Could Impact Your Food

Postby Oscar » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:40 am

How Europe’s Regulation of Pesticides Could Impact Your Food

[ http://civileats.com/2015/03/16/how-eur ... your-food/ ]

As the E.U. moves to restrict hormone-disrupting chemicals, the U.S. government objects.

By Elizabeth Grossman on March 16, 2015

There’s an important debate going on in Europe that could dramatically influence how pesticides are used on the United States’ 400 million acres of farmland. At the center of the debate are endocrine disruptors, a broad class of chemicals known for their ability to interfere with naturally occurring hormones. [ http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/ ... endocrine/ ]

Endocrine disruptors have been linked to a range of health disorders [PDF] [ http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/1066 ... g.pdf?ua=1 ] that include obesity [PDF] [ http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-p ... 316488.pdf ], diabetes, behavior, and learning problems [PDF] [ https://www.endocrine.org/~/media/endos ... tement.pdf ], and to reproductive disorders, including infertility. These chemicals are found in many plastics and countless consumer products, including cosmetics, and building materials. They include bisphenol-A (BPA), certain phthalates, and numerous flame retardants. [ http://www.epa.gov/teach/chem_summ/phth ... ummary.pdf ] The active ingredient in some of the pesticides most widely used across the American farm landscape, such as atrazine, 2,4-D, and organophosphates, are also widely believed to fall in this category.

In 2011, due to growing concern, the European Union decided to restrict the use of pesticides that act as endocrine disruptors. [ http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemica ... dex_en.htm ] But that legislation cannot be fully implemented until members of the European Commission can agree on an official definition of “endocrine disrupting chemicals.” That decision is now overdue. [ http://www.chemsec.org/what-we-do/influ ... regulation ]

Once in place, these would be the first such regulations anywhere in the world. And given the global market for pesticides—and agricultural products—what happens in Europe will have important implications in the U.S. and beyond.

Case in point: the endocrine disruptor argument is being watched closely by those taking part in—and watch-dogging—the closed-door trans-Atlantic trade talks now going on. [ https://ustr.gov/ttip ] As part of those discussions, the U.S. government and pesticide industry groups are reportedly urging for a “harmonization” of U.S. and E.U. policies. But critics, including the Center for International Environmental Law, [ http://www.ciel.org/Publications/LCD_TTIP_Jan2015.pdf ] note that U.S. and E.U. trade groups are pushing to ensure that E.U. environmental standards begin conforming to U.S. regulations. And when it comes to pesticides, many U.S. standards are less stringent than those in Europe.[ http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable- ... nvironment ]

At the heart of the current E.U. debate is whether to designate chemicals as endocrine disruptors based on either a) science that shows their potential to act as endocrine disruptors or b) science that also includes a risk assessment with data about exposure and documented adverse effects—a scenario that can be challenging in the realm of endocrine disruptors whose effects may take years to become apparent.

If defined as the former—essentially using the E.U.’s precautionary approach—[ http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/ ... 042_en.htm ] a great many more chemicals could potentially be swept into this category and possibly restricted. The latter would make it considerably more difficult to restrict a chemical’s use. In recent comments submitted to the European Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Foreign Agriculture Service argues strongly for the latter approach, one that would also include an economic cost-benefit analysis, saying that, “imposing unnecessary restrictions” on pesticides “could have far-reaching and particularly detrimental consequences.” [ http://www.usda-eu.org/?s=endocrine+dis ... +chemicals ]

The U.S. government’s position largely echoes the positions taken by chemical industry groups, including CropLife America [ http://www.croplifeamerica.org/sites/de ... rin....pdf ] and the American Chemistry Council [ http://www.americanchemistry.com/Policy ... oadmap.pdf ] —groups that have a great deal riding on the outcome of this decision. Based on estimates compiled by companies that manufacture pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, the U.S. government says that restricting pesticides as endocrine disruptors based on the broader definition would jeopardize as much as $69 billion worth of imports to Europe [ http://www.usda-eu.org/?s=endocrine+dis ... +chemicals ], including over $4 billion worth coming from the U.S. Pesticides themselves are also big business, with sales worth billions every year.

More than 90 percent of the corn, soy, wheat, and potatoes grown in the U.S. [ http://ers.usda.gov/Data-products/organ ... ction.aspx ]—many of our prime export crops—are treated with pesticides. Virtually no conventionally grown crops are untouched, but tomatoes, apples, grapes, rice, oranges, and peanuts top the USDA’s list for the amount used on the farm level.
[ http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/201 ... RLj_Ol0w3F ]

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Oscar
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