Byrne "still pushing for EU phthalates ban"

Greenpeace slams Commission, EU member states, after prohibition decision delayed

EU consumer affairs commissioner David Byrne remains committed to achieving a European ban on the use of phthalate softeners in certain toys, Commission officials said today, despite the revelation that some of the EU's own scientific advisors now oppose the plan.

The Commission is "working extremely hard to clarify...new elements" that emerged on Friday, a source told ENDS Daily, and hopes to retable the ban proposal as soon as next week. "The matter is very delicate," the official added.

Yesterday, the Commission announced that a regulatory committee due to endorse a ban had deferred a decision following two new developments. The first was receipt of a letter from two members of the EU scientific committee on toxicity issues (CSTEE) disagreeing with the ban proposal. The second was a new proposal by European toy manufacturers voluntarily phase out phthalates in babies' teething rings and similar products (ENDS Daily 22 November).

Greenpeace today denounced the European Commission and EU member states for postponing the ban decision. The EU was "toying with children's health," said Axel Singhofen of Greenpeace's EU unit, and the delay showed "the inability of the EU to take important decisions on public health." "If the EU cannot even agree to protect babies from teething on hazardous chemicals in soft PVC toys what can consumers expect from them in more complex health and environmental issues," he added.

Mr Singhofen particularly criticised the two scientists who wrote to the European Commission last week for "going beyond their mandate" and called on the Commission to "clarify which role individual members of the scientific committee are allowed to play in [EU] decisions on risk management".

He suggested that strong lobbying pressure by the phthalates and toys industries could have contributed to the chain of events that has unfolded. "There's something really nasty cooking," he told ENDS Daily. "This will have major repercussions."

The two scientists who wrote to the Commission were CSTEE chairman Jim Bridges of the University of Surrey in the UK, and Erik Dybing of Norway's National Institute of Public Health, who chairs the CSTEE's phthalates working group.

Professor Bridges told ENDS Daily today that the letter had been sent following informal discussions held last week with six members of the full CSTEE including four members of its phthalates working group. He said he believed the full committee would back the position taken when it meets later this week.

Professor Bridges also denied any outside influence on the scientific positions taken by committee members. "I've never seen anything from any member suggesting industry lobbying," he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Greenpeace EU Unit, tel: +32 2 280 1987; University of Surrey's European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, tel: +44 1483 876 700.

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