MEPs back swift action on hormone chemicals

European Parliament environment committee debates EDCs, precaution, liability

A forthcoming EU priority list of chemicals identified as potential endocrine-disrupting substances should be subject to immediate controls to protect human health instead of further risk assessment, MEPs in the European Parliament's environment committee said this week.

In a resolution on the EU's proposed strategy for dealing with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), the committee said that substances on the priority list "should be intervened against on the basis of the precautionary principle, without awaiting further tests." It was almost impossible to set limit values for the substances, they said, and action - including bans, phase-outs and use limitations - should be taken before mid-2001.

The resolution challenges the European Commission's approach on EDCs. This foresees further analysis of priority list chemicals once globally agreed test methods emerge. Legislative action is not planned until around four years' time, although environment commissioner Margot Wallström has said there is scope to use the precautionary principle to act earlier if warranted. A draft priority list was recently circulated by the Commission (ENDS Daily 10 July).

The precautionary principle was debated at length earlier in the committee meeting as MEPs discussed their response to the European Commission's interpretation of it in a recent policy paper (ENDS Daily 2 February). The discussion revealed substantial hostility to the concept among the centre-right EPP party ranks.

UK Conservative Roger Helmer said the phrase had been "invested with an almost religious quality" which meant that doubters were seen as committing blasphemy. But it was "difficult to see what added value [it] brings to the debate," he said. Others felt it could be used as a "back door" to force through otherwise unacceptable legislation in the name of health and environmental protection.

Addressing another hot issue in environmental policymaking, the parliament's rapporteur on a potential EU law introducing civil liability for environmental damage liability a Commission white paper on the issue contained "many essential elements [that are] still too weak."

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: 284 2111. The texts adopted by the committee will soon be posted here; details on all other issues debated discussed by MEPs can be found here. See also a press release on EDCs.

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