You are here
Europe bans two endocrine-disrupting weedkillers
Guardian UK, 19 April 2016
Use of Amitrole and Isoproturon, herbicides that have been linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects, is prohibited from 30 September
Arthur Neslen in Brussels
The European commission has ordered a ground-breaking moratorium on two endocrine-disrupting weedkillers that have been linked to thyroid cancer, infertility, reproductive problems and foetal malformations.
Use of Amitrole and Isoproturon will now be banned from 30 September across Europe, after an EU committee voted unanimously for the first ever ban on endocrine-disrupting herbicides.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with the hormone system. Scientific studies indicate that they can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects and a range of ailments related to gender, sex and reproductive systems.
Hans Muilerman, chemicals officer at Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, said: “This is a historic decision as it is clear that these chemicals are 100% endocrine disruptors. We applaud these two proposals but at the same time note that a large reservoir of harmful, classified and endocrine-disrupting pesticides is still waiting for a decision, which has been repeatedly postponed by the commission.”
Amitrole, also known as aminotriazole, is widely used in 10 EU countries, including the UK, in industrial farming. But a European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) analysis found that it was an endocrine disruptor that could damage unborn children, and have toxic effects on the thyroid and on reproductive organs.
Efsa also recommended that Isoproturon be classified as toxic for reproduction with potential endocrine-mediated effects on fertility. It said that the best available scientific literature indicated that the pesticide, which is sold in 22 EU countries, had mild “gender-bending” anti-estrogenic and anti-androgenic properties.
A commission spokesman told the Guardian: “The Efsa conclusions for Amitrole and Isoproturon did indicate critical areas of concern related to endocrine disruption but there were other serious concerns related to the risk assessment that were the basis for withdrawal of approval.”
The commission was not immediately able to explain what these concerns were. But environmentalists argue that if the substances had been banned as endocrines, the current state of EU legislation would have allowed exemptions for “negligible exposure” and “serious danger to plant health”.
“I think it was a smart move by the commission,” Muilerman said, adding that the commission’s health directorate had encouraged industry to exercise such exemptions.
Reauthorisation decisions on four other pesticides – Flumioxazin, Flupyrsulfuron, Pymetrozine and Flutianil – may also have been delayed for up to five years for this reason, PAN Europe believes.
Earlier this year, the European court of justice ruled that the European commission had acted illegally by not publishing criteria for identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that US trade officials used the TTIP free trade deal negotiations to apply pressure on the commission to delay publication of the criteria, which could have banned up to 31 pesticides.
A new commission paper on the subject will now be published later this year.
Amitrole was responsible for the “great cranberry crisis” of 1959 which collapsed the $50m-a-year US cranberry industry, after residues of the weedkiller were found on harvested berries.
Research was already linking the chemical to suppressed thyroid function in rats and the encouragement of tumours. Protests reached such a pitch that ‘Miss Cranberry’ of Modesto, California, hung an effigy of the US health minister, Arthur S Flemming.