Chlorpyrifos banned by the EU

Updated 6th of December 2019 at 17.59

The Member States voted today yes to ban chlorpyrifos from the market.

Prohibited by a vote. Chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, two pesticides harmful to the brains of fetuses and young children, are now undesirable in the European Union (EU). During a meeting of the the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) on Friday 6 December, the Member State representatives voted against the renewal of the authorisation for both insecticides, which was due to expire on 31 January 2020.

According to two sources, the ban on chlorpyrifos-methyl, which was uncertain, got 68.34% of the votes (in such committees, a qualified majority requires 55% of the Member States representing at least 65% of the EU population). Only Greece and Portugal reportedly voted against the ban; seven countries abstained (Bulgaria, Czechia, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Cyprus, Slovakia).

The European Commission proposed this ban on the basis of interim opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). At the beginning of August, at the Commission’s request, the Agency published two opinions on the effects of the substances on human health. Chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, EFSA concluded, have “potential” genotoxic effects (harmful to the DNA in cells), and are toxic to the developing brain.

Revealed earlier this week by Le Monde and partners of the cross-border investigation on chlorpyrifos, the heavy lobbying of the manufacturers, Corteva and Ascenza, as well as their allies, to prevent the ban, has failed to convince the Member States. Invented by Dow (now Corteva since its merger with DuPont), the insecticide has been on the market since 1965.

Scientific evidence built over the past two decades shows that exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy and in the early years of life causes significant developmental delays, autism spectrum disorders, IQ deficits of up to seven points, and attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.

Chlorpyrifos can no longer be placed on the market or used in the EU

The two regulations endorsing the decision are expected to be formally adopted in January, according to the Commission. Member States will then ban the products containing the substances at the national level, as this action falls within their competence. They may grant a “grace period” of three months to clear stocks. After which the products can no longer be placed on the market or used in the EU.

“This is an important decision,” wrote Axel Mie, associate professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, to Le Monde in an email.

The research of this scientist and his colleagues Christina Rudén and Philippe Grandjean played a decisive role. In 2017, they had exhumed the only study provided by Dow to the European authorities on the neurodevelopmental toxicity of chlorpyrifos, and found that it clearly showed adverse effects on the brain of rats. However, these data had never been evaluated by the European authorities.

“We must now work to ensure that an approval of pesticides based on incorrect conclusions in industry-funded studies is not repeated. Had the relevant data been correctly reported, this decision might have come 20 years ago,” Axel Mie wrote.

In a statement, a coordination of seven NGOs welcomed “a historic move”. “While we can’t take away the decades of exposure to these substances and the associated neurodevelopmental impacts, Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director of the NGO Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said, The ban of both forms of chlorpyrifos is a major win for the healthy development of today’s children and future generations.”

In an email to Le Monde, Corteva said they were “disappointed” by the EU’s decision. “No active substance has been researched more thoroughly than chlorpyrifos,” they wrote.

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