Pesticide safety: Flawed risk assessment tests were driven by too much industry influence

“If pesticides are so dangerous, why are they allowed to be sold and used?”

If you’ve ever tried to convince someone how important it is to buy organic produce, you might have heard this line. Answering honestly can get you labeled a conspiracy theorist pretty quickly, but according to one NGO, nine out of ten EU tests determining pesticide safety come from the industry itself.

That answers the question nicely, but there’s more to the story than that. The EU is known for having some of the strictest pesticide laws on the planet. In many other systems, regulators have to prove that they are harmful to get a ban or restriction; in the EU, on the other hand, the burden is on pesticide makers to prove they are safe before they can be sold.

You would think this would give Europeans an unparalleled level of protection, but the reality is far different. A report from the Pesticide Action Network has found that 90 percent of the tests for authorizing pesticides carried out by the EU have been designed by the pesticide industry or are tests that the pesticide industry advocated for – and we can all imagine why they would favor certain tests over others.

In addition, more than two thirds of these tests use methods that come from the U.S., where pesticide regulations are notoriously lax.

Who regulates EU pesticides?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has the job of regulating pesticides in Europe. They use 12 methods for assessing pesticide risk to determine if each substance should be allowed to be used within the European Union, but 11 of these were promoted by the pesticide industry or developed by them directly. That leaves just one test that can really be trusted.

According to the Pesticide Action Network’s Hans Muilerman, this allows the dangerous effects seen in animal safety studies to essentially be “swept under the carpet.” The methods deem the tumors seen in test animals irrelevant in humans, for example, and consider pesticide residues in groundwater to be acceptable.

Muilerman said: “The methods are designed to prevent a ban of harmful pesticides and result in lowering of the protection of the public and the environment.”

In a hugely controversial move, the EU decided to reauthorize the herbicide glyphosate last year, with national governments going against the advice of the European parliament, who called for a complete ban of the herbicide within five years. The World Health Organization has called glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.”

EU regulators have long faced accusations of improperly close ties with the pesticide industry. Last month, European Parliament members voted to create a special committee to investigate the influence that crop protection firms have over the authorization process in the EU.

The European Union isn’t the only place where the pesticide industry has too much influence. Monsanto, makers of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup, have been colluding with the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. to cover up the product’s connection to cancer. According to court documents, the EPA declared Roundup safe without testing the effects of the formulation as a whole, relying instead on tests of just one ingredient. The EPA has been aware of the connection for at least 35 years, according to internal correspondence that was recently uncovered, and Monsanto managed to convince them not to release the supporting research.

Around the world, it appears that regulators are letting deep-pocketed pesticide companies call the shots. How many people will become ill before something is finally done to stop this corruption?

Read for more coverage of pesticide pollution.

Sources for this article include:

comments powered by Disqus