EU phthalates ban "may have been political"

MEP suggests Commission may have acted to salvage reputation of health commissioner Byrne

An MEP claimed today that the European Commission's move last year to ban the use of phthalate softeners in plastic children's toys may not have been entirely based on science as the Commission has claimed. Speaking during a debate on phthalates in the European Parliament's environment committee, UK Liberal Chris Davies said the December decision could have been designed at least in part to boost confidence in health and consumer commissioner David Byrne (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999).

Mr Davies said Mr Byrne was at that time perceived to be "on the hook" after a "humiliation" in the press over his handling of France's refusal to accept an EU decision that British beef was safe for consumers. "It may appear to some that he was seen no longer to be weak and ineffective [after the phthalates ban]," he said to MEPs today. He added that the move had had "added emotional appeal" since it affected young children.

The EU's decision to ban phthalates was taken amid controversy after two key members of the EU's scientific advisory committee on the issue alleged that the Commission had "grossly misused" its work in recommending a ban (ENDS Daily 22 November 1999).

The scientific committee later drafted a position paper on issues raised by the phthalates saga. The paper was due to be released by the Commission in February, but has still not been published. Industry sources suggested that this is because the committee has interpreted the concept of "serious and immediate risk," which had to be invoked by the Commission to justify the phthalates ban, in a way that calls into question the EU executive's judgement.

A Commission official defended the EU ban in front of the parliamentary committee today, saying it had been based on "science and proportionality". Questioned by Mr Davies and committee chair Caroline Jackson over the delay in releasing the scientific committee's statement and whether they contradicted the Commission's decision, a second official insisted that the scientific committee "is only there for scientific advice, not interpretation". He said the minutes would be published next week.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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