Thursday

9th Dec 2021

EU experts agree pesticide may damage unborn children

  • The two pesticides are heavily-used in Spain. Chlorpyrifos has been approved at an EU level since 2006 - but eight states have banned, or never authorised, its use: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden (Photo: Marcos Garcia Rey)

There are no safe levels for exposure to the pesticides chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, dubbed 'the most dangerous you've never heard of', EU experts have said in an unprecedented preliminary-finding into the pesticide - suggesting an EU-wide ban is a step closer.

EUobserver reported earlier this year how the pesticides had been linked to brain damage, and no discernible safe human dosage-level.

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Chlorpyrifos is used to kill insects on growing vegetables and fruit.

Now experts from EU member states and staff at the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) have published an unprecedented statement on the two controversial pesticides, believed to cause brain damage on children whose mothers have been exposed during pregnancy.

In a 2 August, the EFSA announced the pesticides do not meet the criteria for a renewed approval.

The present approvals expire in January 2020.

First time ever EFSA publish preliminary findings

An EFSA spokesperson told Norwegian daily Dagbladet this was the first time the body had ever published preliminary statements by experts, before an ongoing peer-review has been finalised.

This unprecedented move was triggered by a request from the EU Commission on 1 July - following pressure from NGOs and publicity by the journalist team behind 'Chlorpyrifos – the Unknown Pesticide' initiated by Investigative Reporting Denmark .

According to the experts, a genotoxic potential for chlorpyrifos cannot be ruled out.

They deem the label "may damage unborn child" to be appropriate. Utlimately, the criteria applicable to human health are not met, a 28-page statement summarises.

Based on what they term a 'conservatively-based' approach, the experts came to the same conclusion for the closely-related chlorpyrifos-methyl. All experts but one (not identified) agreed.

Final decision still to come

Although seemingly clear in message, and unprecedented in format, the two statements are not yet the final word.

Either a renewed approval, or a ban of the pesticides, will in the end not be decided by EFSA, but by a standing committee of representatives from EU member states and the commission, after another meeting of experts, scheduled for September.

It is believed a proposed final decision will be published in October, and then voted on by the committee in December.

Preliminary proposals on the future for chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl have been circulated among member states' experts since 2017, but not released to the public.

A request for access submitted by this reporter was turned down by the EFSA as recently as 29 July, and earlier by the Swedish Supreme Court of Administration in May this year.

In both cases the denial of access was led by objections from Spain, acting as reporting member state on the future of the two pesticides.

Spain is a heavy-user of the pesticides, according to the El Confidencial Spanish contribution to the' investigation.

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Scientists say there is no acceptable dose to avoid brain damage. Its use is banned in several European countries. Yet its residues are found in fruit baskets, on dinner plates, and in human urine samples from all over Europe.

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The new European Parliament committee will try to restore citizens' trust in the procedure after the glyphosate affair. Its 30 members have some experience on pesticide issues - but different positions.

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Time is running out for chlorpyrifos, the pesticide which is a cause of brain damage to human fetuses and newly-born children. The EU Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both stated approval should not be renewed.

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