By Yannick Vicaire, Chemicals and Health Policy Campaigner at HEAL
The widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos can seriously harm children’s healthy brain development. It will be for the next European Commission and European governments to deliver the one obvious solution: a complete ban of chlorpyrifos, to protect health and the environment.
In late August, the European Commission announced it will put forward a proposal to European governments to not renew the market approval of this pesticide. The current authorisation of chlorpyrifos in the European Union is due to expire on 31 January 2020. This deadline is coming up fast and comes with a real danger: should governments miss this deadline, chlorpyrifos would automatically be granted another year of uncontrolled use in the EU.
Independent scientific evidence leaves no doubt about the toxicity of chlorpyrifos: exposure has been linked to decreased IQ, working memory loss, autism development and other neurodevelopmental disorders in children, even at small doses. The resulting health bill could not be clearer: chlorpyrifos is responsible for an average IQ reduction by 2.5 points of every child living in Europe. Research also points at chlorpyrifos being a disruptor of the normal functioning of thyroid hormone, making it an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC).
While the health arguments against chlorpyrifos are well established, red flags about the previous EU approval for the pesticide have popped up in the last few months. A series of investigative reports published across Europe highlighted that the previous European market approval process of chlorpyrifos ignored hundreds of independent studies showing evidence of brain-harming effects. The approval was instead based on just one single study, that was commissioned by industry. Academic scientists were able to scrutinise this industry-funded study and identified several failures, shortcomings and inadequate interpretation of raw data.
Meanwhile, chlorpyrifos remains one of the most commonly used pesticides in the EU and consequently is one of the most frequently found residues in food samples. An analysis of data from the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) by HEAL and PAN-Europe shows residues of chlorpyrifos are most prominently present in citrus fruit, bananas, apples, peaches and pears. Even in EU countries where no authorisation has been granted, consumers are at risk of being exposed to chlorpyrifos residues by consuming contaminated fruit produced in other EU Member States.
The European Commission plan to propose a ban on both forms of chlorpyrifos – chlorpyrifos-ethyl and -methyl – is good news for public health. A European Food Safety Authority statement published in early August makes it crystal clear: chlorpyrifos-ethyl and -methyl are harmful to human health and do not meet the criteria for renewal on the European market. We urge Member States to endorse the Commission’s proposal in the upcoming decision process, and to withdraw right away all authorisations related to the two substances.
Banning chlorpyrifos is truly a Europe-wide health opportunity. European citizens agree: over 213,400 people have already signed a petition launched by SumOfUs, HEAL, Générations Futures, Ecologistas en Acción, and the European and German branches of the Pesticide Action Network. It is high time that the European institutions and governments address their failure to protect children’s health, by finally banning chlorpyrifos. Beyond that, they should also learn a broader lesson from it and further reform the European pesticides approval system and work towards ending the industrial agriculture’s addiction to toxic chemicals.