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12 January 2020

Two reprotoxic substances banned in the European Union

Following advice from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), the European Commission has taken the decision to ban two pesticides: chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, two organophosphates used as ingredients for various insecticides.

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The multinational company Corteva (ex-Dow Chemical and renamed Corteva following its merger with DuPont in June 2019) is the main producer worldwide of chlorpyrifos, a product that has been on the market since 1966. It is currently used in some 80 countries. The decision to ban it was confirmed by a majority vote of EU Member States on 6 December 2019. According to information in the French Le Monde, a group of countries opposed the ban of chlorpyrifos-methyl (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Poland) but were unable to block the decision. Spain was the country responsible for compiling the provisional assessment report for the EFSA. This report basically mirrored the conclusions presented by Dow Chemical.

The two substances had an authorisation granted in 2006 and due to expire on 31 January 2020. Even back in 2006, studies highlighting the risks of chlorpyrifos already existed. In particular, a study conducted by a research team from the University of Columbia in the US stressed that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos could cause major development deficiencies.

The impact of this substance on the development of a baby’s brain during pregnancy has been confirmed in several scientific studies, such as the one published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). A link has been established between high exposure in utero and significant brain anomalies. Effects include cognitive test results well below average, attention deficits and weaker IQ test results. Other studies highlight the role played by this substance in the autism of children born in farming regions.

Chlorpyrifos is the subject of a heated debate in the US. While the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in 2016 that it would be banned, the coming to power of Donald Trump blocked the decision, forcing the EPA to renew its authorisation of the pesticide in July 2019. Widely criticised, this decision fuelled the conflict between the federal administration and California over chemical risks. In May 2019, California took the decision to ban chlorpyrifos.

According to Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI, “although late, this is a welcome decision. Eight EU countries had already decided to ban chlorpyrifos on their territories (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Sweden), showing that the more ambitious policies on protecting health and the environment of certain Member States can help prod European decision-makers. This could serve as a precedent for glyphosate and other particularly dangerous pesticides.”

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