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5 December 2016

Endocrine disruptors: Scientists denounce the ‘manipulation of science’

In an op-ed article featured in the French daily newspaper Le Monde on 30 November, some 100 scientists condemn the strategies employed by the chemicals industry in order to influence European Union legislation on endocrine disruptors.

For several months now, a battle by stealth has been playing out in Brussels, pitting those representing the interests of the chemicals industry against the champions of environmental protection and workers’ and consumer health protection. At the root of the conflict lies the issue of how to deal with endocrine disruptors, chemical substances that interfere with our hormone systems, causing various diseases.

The article’s signatories consider the European Union authorities to be under the influence of scientists with links to the chemicals industry (see, in this regard, the investigation conducted by Le Monde). These scientists are dubbed ‘manufacturers of doubt’ by the article’s authors.

They explain in the article that, for decades now, science has come under attack whenever its discoveries have raised questions about commercial activities and vested interests. Scientific evidence has been wilfully distorted by individuals refuting the science and actors sponsored by industry interests, thus creating the false impression of a controversy. This manufacturing of doubt has delayed preventive measures, with serious repercussions for public health and the environment.

They go on to compare the manipulative strategies employed by the chemicals industry with the tactics used in the past by the tobacco industry in order to stall the regulatory process. These eminent scientists* are concerned that ‘the regulatory options proposed by the European Commission fall well short of what is needed to protect us and future generations.’

This position is shared by many NGOs.

In a move to counteract the influence of the chemicals lobby, endocrine disruptor experts are calling for the creation of an international group of experts similar to the IPCC, the specialist panel studying the effects of global warming. They believe that bringing the scientific debate on endocrine disruptors under the auspices of the United Nations will guarantee the independence of the work undertaken.

On 15 June, the European Commission presented criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors. Although a decisive step, which is to be implemented by means of various EU directives (in particular the Pesticides Directive), the Commission’s proposal still has to be approved by the Member States.

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) recently published a guide on workers’ exposure to endocrine disruptors. The publication will be available in English by the end of 2016.

* The signatories include a number of pioneers in research into endocrine disruptors, such as Andreas Kortenkamp (Brunel University, London), Philippe Grandjean (Harvard School of Public Health) and Niels Erik Skakkebæk (University of Copenhagen).

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