EU states delay decision on phthalates ban

French presidency passes the buck to Sweden as labelling versus testing row continues

EU governments will not formally respond to European Commission proposals to permanently ban the use of phthalate softeners in PVC baby toys until at least the early months of next year, it has emerged. The decision, taken at a meeting of the EU Industry Council in Luxembourg yesterday, was forced by continued disagreements between countries over how rigorously the EU should control phthalates.

Under the Commission's proposal, six types of phthalates would be banned in toys expressly designed to be sucked by under-threes, while being permitted in toys that might be sucked on condition that these carry warning labels. The first element appears not to be controversial, and indeed is already in force under emergency legislation (ENDS Daily 7 September), but member states are split down the middle over the second.

Led by Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Austria, one group objects to the labelling option as too weak and wants the ban extended. In the other camp, the UK and the Netherlands, but according to one source also Spain, France and Italy, are arguing that the labelling plan is too strong. These countries want instead to introduce maximum phthalate migration levels based on agreed test methods.

A significant element in the Council's decision to postpone further discussion until next year is the green light recently given by the EU's scientific advisors for research to develop reliable migration tests (ENDS Daily 8 September). This research is expected to be completed by the end of the year. By the time of the first Internal Council meeting under the Swedish presidency - which takes over from France in January - it should be clear whether test methods offer a viable alternative to warning labels or not.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6423, and Internal Market Council press release.

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