Eleven out of 12 EU pesticide and GMO risk assessment methods studied were developed or promoted by industry, a new report from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) shows. The report says that harmful effects observed in animal safety studies on pesticides can be swept under the carpet by using these methods. For example, tumours seen in test animals can be classified as irrelevant for humans; harmful pesticide residues in groundwater or 50% of non-target insects being killed off by pesticide spraying are deemed acceptable; safe levels can be assumed for carcinogens; standards for protection of aquatic life can be relaxed; and a GM crop that unexpectedly differs markedly in composition from the non-GM parent can be waved through the approvals process with little challenge.
These methods are designed to prevent a ban on harmful and risky substances and result in weakening the protection of the public and the environment.
The new report shows that industry, often via the industry lobby group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), not only designed the methods but also, in 75% of the cases studied, managed to infiltrate its experts into regulatory panels such as those of EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to get these methods adopted. The WHO, EU Commission and EFSA failed to stop the infiltration of industry and maintained an ineffective conflict of interest policy. Not coincidentally, regulators also failed to keep their distance from industry. In 50% of the cases studied, regulators and EFSA had exclusive meetings with industry on the methods, excluding other stakeholders.
In the case of GM crops, the concepts of “substantial equivalence” and “comparative assessment” were designed and promoted by industry employees and consultants via ILSI. These same ILSI-affiliated people joined EFSA and ‘helped’ develop the EFSA guidelines for assessing GMOs, which are based on the ILSI-developed concepts. ILSI even stated that the guidelines developed at EFSA and the WHO represented a major success of its work.
Industry found the inspiration for its desired methods mainly from the US (67% of the cases studied), a country that is seen by many as industry-friendly and does not apply the precautionary principle. The report suggests that US-type risk assessment is invading the EU system through the back door.
Pesticide Action Network stated in a press release that it urges WHO, Commission and EFSA to subject all current risk assessment methodologies to a review by independent scientists with a good scientific track record. It adds that an advanced conflict of interest policy is also urgently needed for regulatory panels.
PAN commented on its findings, “The study shows that the public and the environment do not get the protection they are entitled to. The science behind the methods is biased and manipulated and the decisions on pesticides unscientific. EFSA and WHO still have cosy relations with industry and an attitude that prevents them from being objective and independent.
“The fact that chronic diseases such as the endocrine-related breast and prostate cancers keep rising and that ecosystems (bees, birds, insects, etc.) in agricultural areas are suffering major collapse, are clear signs of a failing EU risk assessment system of pesticides.”