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What’s That in Your Fruit Salad?

 Fruits and vegetables for sale at Le Marché de Noailles, Marseille, France, October 1, 2014 (Photo by kixmi71) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Fruits and vegetables for sale at Le Marché de Noailles, Marseille, France, October 1, 2014 (Photo by kixmi71) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 12, 2017 (Maximpact.com  News) – A pregnant woman eating a salad of fresh fruit grown by conventional agriculture in the European Union may think she is providing healthy nourishment to her future baby, but in fact she might be exposing it to a cocktail of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

In an effort to protect women like her, the EU’s 2009 Pesticide Regulation was the first to address endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as hazards. It requires the European Commission to establish a set of scientific criteria to identify which chemicals have endocrine disrupting properties by December 2013 and to remove them from the market.

But more than three years past the deadline, endocrine disrupting pesticides are still used in agriculture without restrictions. This means that they end up as residues in food, and people are exposed to them on a daily basis.

Eating the residue of endocrine disrupting chemicals sprayed as pesticides on fruits and vegetables has, in scientific studies, been linked to altered reproductive function in both males and females, increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.

A joint United Nations – World Health Organization study issued in 2013, the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date, links exposure to EDCs and health problems such as non-descended testes in young males, prostate cancer in older men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity in children as well as thyroid cancer.

Of special concern are effects on early development of both humans and wildlife, as these effects are often irreversible and may not appear as serious adverse effects and disease until later in life.

But which chemicals act as endocrine disrupters? Arriving at a list of criteria to answer that question has been difficult.

On October 4, the European Parliament rejected the Commission’s latest attempt at defining criteria for endocrine disrupting pesticides with 389 of the 694 MEPs voting No.

For the first time, the Parliament used its democratic right of “scrutiny,” the right to block a Commission proposal, which was based on World Health Organization criteria to identify endocrine disruptors,

The Commission now must change the proposal, working together with the representatives of the Member States in the Standing Committee.

The rejected criteria proposal has been characterized as scientifically unfit to protect people from the potential harms caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals.

With the vote, the criteria proposal was deemed unlawful, as the Commission went beyond its legislative power in implementing an exemption from the Pesticide Regulation for non-target organisms.

Following Parliament’s rejection, the Commission is now expected to delete the last paragraph of the draft criteria proposal, which introduced an exemption for pesticides designed to disrupt target pests’ endocrine systems even if these were causing endocrine disruption and consequent harm to non-target creatures.

This was not in the Commission’s mandate and contradicts the requirements of the pesticide regulation that specifically calls on regulators “not to approve substances that are considered to have endocrine disrupting properties that may cause adverse effects on non-target organisms” (Annex II, 3.8.2).

After the vote, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis of Lithuania said he strongly believes that in this case “no deal is a bad deal for EU citizens.”

He said the scientific criteria propsed by the Commission “would have ensured better protection of human health and the environment as well as served as a stepping stone to a wider strategy on endocrine disruptors.”

The vote means that the scientific criteria put forward by the Commission that had been supported by Member States in early July after months of thorough discussions cannot be adopted. Andriukaitis said the Commission will now need to reflect on next steps to take.

Speaking from the Parliament in Strasbourg following the vote, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, first Vice President of the European Parliament, said urgent action is needed.

“We need the Commission to put forward legislation on this issue, as demanded some eight years ago by the European Parliament under the Pesticides Regulation,” said McGuinness, a member of the Parliament’s Environment and Agriculture Committees.

In McGuinness’ view, the issue is a wider one that cannot just be addressed at the EU level. “We need a globalised harmonisation of what chemicals are endocrine disruptors and whether they should be completely removed from use in agriculture. It is not enough for the EU to tighten up our legislation if we do not encourage non-EU crop producers to do likewise,” she said.

“The EU imports crops from across the globe – often grown using products not allowed in the EU or products which may in future be banned. If a chemical is harmful in the EU, it is harmful elsewhere and we should work to have high global standards.

The pesticide Chlorpyrifos for example, which acts on the nervous systems of insects, is at the top of the list and has been reported to cause neurodevelopmental toxicity in humans, affecting the brains of infants and children.

“Farmers inside and outside the EU need the same level of protection and so do consumers. There is an opportunity to address this in our trade relationships with other countries,” said McGuinness.

One-third of European fruit contains 27 endocrine disrupting pesticides, reported in scientific literature to cause endocrine disruption in animals and probably in humans, according to Pesticide Action Network-Europe’s latest analysis.

The analysis was based on 2015 monitoring data of fruit and vegetables from all EU Member States, which PAN-Europe obtained through a public access to documents request.

Mandarins, oranges, grapes, and peaches are all at the top of the list, turning a healthy fruit salad into a potentially toxic cocktail.

A smaller but still important amount (17-40 percent) of popular vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes, also were found to contain endocrine disrupting pesticides, and several fruit and vegetables contained not just one pesticide, but up to eight EDPs per sample. Their potential for combined toxic effects has not been assessed.

A high number of fruit and vegetables produced in southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece contain endocrine disrupting pesticides, says PAN-Europe, while it’s mostly the fruit and vegetables sold in markets of Northern countries like Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands that contain these pesticides.

It appears that no country remains unaffected.

PAN Europe congratulated the European Parliament for recognizing that the new derogation was illegal and would inevitably result in pesticides designed to be endocrine disruptors to stay on the market.

The criteria already require such a high burden of proof to identify a substance as an endocrine disruptor, that it remains unclear how many pesticides, if any, will be regulated, says PAN Europe environmental toxicologist Angeliki Lysimachou.

“A matter of such importance involving our food and affecting the most vulnerable demands immediate action, and if EU regulators fail to protect us then it’s down to Member States to take action, Lysimachou said. “These chemicals have no place neither on our table, nor in the production of our food.”


Consulant

Closing the Loop: EU Quarrels Over Circular Economy Plan

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By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 30, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – The European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Package it says will help European businesses and consumers contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use.

But Members of the European Parliament are critical of the new package.

The Commission says its plan will extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, encouraging energy savings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing benefits to Europe’s environment and economy.

The changes are needed, the Commission says, because global competition for resources is increasing. The concentration of resources outside the EU, particularly critical raw materials, makes industry and society within the 28 Member States dependent on imports and vulnerable to high prices, market volatility, and the political situation in supplying countries.

The new Circular Economy Package sets a common EU target for recycling 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030.

The plan calls for a binding target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10 percent, with a complete ban on landfill for separately collected waste.

There will be economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment as well as vehicles, among other products.

There are also plans to harmonize the way recycling rates are calculated across the Member States.

The proposals require action at all stages of the life cycle of products – from the extraction of raw materials, through material and product design, the production, distribution and consumption of goods, repair, re-manufacturing and re-use schemes, all the way through to waste management and recycling.

All these stages are linked. For instance, use of certain hazardous substances in the production of products can affect their recycling potential, and improvements in terms of resource and energy efficiency can be made at all stages.

In July 2014, under President Jose Barroso, the Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package that included a proposal for the review of waste legislation in response to the legal obligation to review the targets of three Directives: the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive, and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

Then, on November 1, 2014, a new Commission took office under President Jean-Claude Juncker. In its 2015 Work Programme, the Juncker Commission announced its intention to withdraw the 2014 proposal on Waste Review and to replace it with a new, more ambitious proposal to promote the circular economy by the end of 2015.

Two main reasons motivated this withdrawal.

First, the overall approach presented in July 2014 had an exclusive focus on waste management, without exploring synergies with other policies such as the development of markets for secondary raw materials.

Second, the Juncker Commission wanted to make the proposal more country specific and improve the implementation of waste policy, particularly existing problems of non-compliance.

On December 2, the Juncker Commission presented its new Circular Economy Package to the European Parliament.

The new initiative would establish a framework to overcome past shortcomings and create conditions for the development of a circular economy “with a clear and ambitious political vision combined with effective policy tools that can drive real change on the ground,” the Juncker Commission said.

The Commission said its new package “contributes to broad political priorities by tackling climate change and the environment while boosting job creation, economic growth, investment and social fairness.”

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The package was prepared by a core project team co-chaired by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, with the close involvement of Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Karmenu Vella and Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska.

Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said, “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them.”

“The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works,” Timmermans said. “By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs. With today’s package, we are delivering the comprehensive framework that will truly enable this change to happen.”

“It sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation,” said Timmermans.

Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said, “These proposals give a positive signal to those waiting to invest in the circular economy. Today we are saying that Europe is the best place to grow a sustainable and environmentally-friendly business.”

“This transition towards a more circular economy is about reshaping the market economy and improving our competitiveness,” said Katainen, a former Finnish prime minister. “If we can be more resource efficient and reduce our dependency on scarce raw materials, we can develop a competitive edge. The job creation potential of the circular economy is huge, and the demand for better, more efficient products and services is booming.”

The Juncker Commission is in partnership with the European Investment Bank to fund the new package.

On December 10, Vella blogged that the partners signed an amendment to the InnovFin Delegation Agreement “that will enable higher-risk, yet innovative sustainable business models and plans to access credit through InnovFin – an EU finance support programme under Horizon 2020.”

Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds will suppport the new Circular Economy Package, the Commission said.

“The proposals are a powerful enabling framework, but we will also need substantial private sector funding directed towards the circular economy,” wrote Vella. “The European Fund for Strategic Investment (the ‘Juncker Plan’) is one tool to support this. The Commission would like to also guide future investment, steering it more towards green choices, with progressive divestment from unsustainable activities.”

Vella wrote that the EIB, the Commission and national banks plan to work together to increase awareness of circular economy financing.

But many Members of the European Parliament are not impressed with the new package.

The 65 percent target is a point of contention. Although the Juncker Commission says the new package is far more ambitious than its predecessor, MEPs point out that Barroso’s team wanted to introduce a 70 percent target in 2014.

Karl-Heinz Florenz, a German Member of the European Parliament who sits with the European People’s Party group, told the “Parliament Magazine” that the new proposal amounts to “much ado about nothing.”

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Vice-Chair Kathleen Van Brempt of Belgium said, “This ambitious roadmap needs to be supported by specific targets, and our political group will try to build a consensus in the Parliament to introduce those targets, to make sure the roadmap is accomplished.”

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, shadow rapporteur on the circular economy with the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, accused the Commission of, “wasting months of work and many hours of parliamentary time.”

“With a weakened waste proposal and an action plan copy-pasted from the 2010 roadmap to a resource efficient Europe, it’s clear the European Commission is failing to deliver on this important agenda for growth and jobs,” the Dutch MEP told the “Parliament Magazine.”

Greens/European Free Alliance Group Vice-Chair Bas Eickhout commented, “While we welcome the fact that the Commission has finally come forward with revised proposals on the circular economy, we are concerned that the plans are undermined by the reduced ambition. This is contrary to the commitment by the Commission for a more ambitious proposal.”

“A year on from the initial decision by the Commission to withdraw its original proposals, we have lost both time and ambition in the push to stimulate the circular economy at EU level,” said Eickhout.

Green environment spokesperson Davor Škrlec said, “It is a major shame that the Commission is not seeking to maximize the potential of the circular economy. We will seek to address some of the shortcomings in Parliament.”

Responding to criticism of the new package, Vice President Timmermans pointed out that the legally-binding 10 percent cap on land-filling was, “completely new” and that the 65 percent target for recyclables was, “an extremely ambitious goal, which for many member states will require a huge effort.”

Key actions under the Juncker Commission’s new Circular Economy Package include:

  • Funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds;
  • Actions to reduce food waste, including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030;
  • Development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • Measures in the Ecodesign working plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency;
  • A revised regulation on fertilizers, to facilitate the recognition of organic and waste-based fertilizers in the single market and support the role of bio-nutrients;
  • A strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for reducing marine litter;
  • A series of actions on water reuse, including a legislative proposal on minimum requirements for the reuse of wastewater.
  • A clear timeline for the actions proposed and a plan for a simple and effective monitoring framework for the circular economy.

Vice President Katainen said, “We will remove barriers that make it difficult for businesses to optimize their resource use and we will boost the internal market for secondary raw materials. We want to achieve real progress on the ground and look forward to delivering on this ambition together with not only Member States, regions and municipalities, but also businesses, industry and civil society.”

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Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Members of the European Parliament in plenary session, 2015. (Photo courtesy European Parliament) © European Union 2015 – European Parliament.
Featured image: Naples, Italy struggles with longstanding garbage problems, June 2007 (Photo by Chris Beckett) under Creative Commons license via Flickr
Image 01: EU Vice-President Jyrki Katainen addresses the European Parliament, January 2015 © European Union 2015 – European Parliament. (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Creative Commons licenses creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Image 02: Landfill at the Selly Oak Battery Park redevelopment site in Birmingham, England, May 2015 (Photo by Elliott Brown) under Creative Commons license via Flickr