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India should follow European Union, ban 'disrupting' endocrine pesticides: PAN India

Counterview Desk 

The environmental advocacy group Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India, even as welcoming the European Union decision to ban six endocrine disrupting pesticides, has noted “significant concern regarding the contamination of these hazardous pesticides in food items has in India”. In a statement, it said, “Government of India should review the registration of these specific hazardous chemicals ... to protect children, farmers and the environment.”
It regretted, while the European Union ban will be effective only a year later, “India should assess if these banned chemicals are imported into India. In the ongoing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks with UK and EU, India should insist on restricting products with residues of these chemicals.”

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In a significant decision, European Union (EU) banned six Endocrine Disrupting Pesticides, based on the recommendation by the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF). Amidst the tussle over continued usage of toxic agrochemicals in Europe, between various groups and pesticide business lobbies, this decision becomes critical, for different reasons. 
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India welcomes this relevant intervention, considering the potential danger from these chemicals to unborn and young children even in very low concentrations. This ban comes 5 years after the (criteria) went into force and 10 years after the introduction of the regulation. This ban came at the right time.
This proposal to ban 5 chemicals was discussed by Member States during the SCoPAFF meeting on the 11 and 12th of July 2023. Before in 2009, it was agreed to identify and ban these highly dangerous and harmful substances. Having been in use for more than 14 years after such identification, these Endocrine Disruptors have entered our food and environment in significantly detectable levels. This has put the health and development of young children at unnecessary risk.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic or block the action of hormones. They are known as EDCs, endocrine disrupting chemicals. They can be extremely dangerous for the unborn or young children. These chemical hormones can have devastating effects on the development of children in extremely low doses, comparable to natural hormones.
They can also cause cancer or brain damage at all ages. Pesticide residues in food is the main source of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals for humans. These chemicals alter the function of human hormonal system and can have adverse effects at a very low dose, particularly when exposure takes place during early life. Young children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable and are at higher risk. Many pesticides have endocrine disrupting properties, but until recently these properties were hardly investigated. And such chemicals were not properly regulated.
Initially, European Commission banned only one substance, a herbicide called Triflusulfuron-methyl, during the meeting with EU Member States in the SCOPAFF committee on pesticide legislation. This initial proposal by the Commission is now followed by four others of Endocrine Disruptors in the light of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) findings.
These four active substances are: one herbicide, asulam sodium, two fungicides benthiavalicarb and metiram and one insecticide, clofentezine. They have all been found by EFSA to be endocrine disruptors to humans in its assessment between 2021 and 2023. While asulam sodium has never been approved in the EU, 4 other substances are authorised in pesticide products used in almost all Member States. The hormone disrupting substance, asulam sodium, was not approved, and the approvals of metiram, benthiavalicarb, clofentezine and triflusulfuron-methyl will not be renewed.
The approval of metiram was due to expire in 2016, that of benthiavalicarb and clofentezine in 2018 and that of triflusulfuron-methyl in 2019. Likewise, the EDC Free Europe coalition which represents more than 70 environmental, health, women's and consumer groups across Europe who share a common concern about EDCs and their impact on our health and wildlife, has openly expressed support for these ban proposals to swiftly enter into force.
Two of the 6 pesticides which are banned by the EU are registered in India. Metalochlor, a herbicide used to control 7 herbs in the soybean field is registered for use in India.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has declared it as a possible human carcinogen. Metiram another one among the banned pesticides is also registered in India, however Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine & Storage (PPQS) statistics doesn’t show its production or import. Metiram is a registered fungicide to treat fungal disease in 5 crops (tomato, groundnut, potato, grapes and rice). It causes various acute health problems like skin sensitivity and photo toxicity. It is detected as a Probable human Carcinogen and Possible thyroid toxicant by US EPA.

Stages of implementation

In 2013 the EU Commission bypassed the result of the work of endocrinologists and certain Member State experts who prepared a proposal to identify Endocrine Disrupting Pesticides (EDPs) and provide sufficient protection for population and environment. Then in 2016, the Commission proposed to completely change the rules and return to traditional risk assessment (instead of a hazard-based one).
Many pesticides have endocrine disrupting properties, but until recently these properties were hardly investigated
In 2018, after 5 years of delay, the Commission finally published a set of scientific criteria to identify EDCs together with a guidance document by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)/European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Once the scientific criteria entered into force, the authorities 'suddenly' realised that for many pesticides there were no tests provided to assess endocrine disruption.
They "stopped the clock" of the assessment to request additional data from applicants. This led to delays in the identification and banning of EDPs. Now finally, 5 years after the criteria entered into force and 10 years after the official request to provide such scientific criteria in 2013, EFSA has identified the first set of endocrine disrupting pesticides. The next stage started in May 2023.
Despite the ban, concerns have been raised about the grace period. The grace periods allow the ban to become effective on November 2024 for s-metolachlor and benthiavalicarb, and in January 2024 for metirm. This contradicts the regulation that demands the swift removal from the market of substances when they are banned for health or environmental reasons.
There is also significant concern regarding the contamination of these hazardous pesticides in food items in India, amongst others. Even though it is obvious that there are pesticide residues in food, data regarding weedicide residues in them is generally not available. Therefore, identifying the degree of contamination is made difficult by the lack of proper residue monitoring in food items, especially for weedicides.
“This needs to be taken seriously and in the light of EU ban. Government of India should review the registration of these specific hazardous chemicals and also other EDCs to protect children, farmers and the environment”, said A. D. Dileep Kumar, CEO of PAN India.
Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi, Adviser, Maharashtra Association of Pesticide Poisoned Persons and a public policy expert, comments, “This ban should have been immediate and not staggered over months. India should assess if these banned chemicals are imported into India. In the ongoing FTA talks with UK and EU, India should insist on restricting products with residues of these chemicals. Further, we hope EU will similarly ban glyphosate, which is the most pernicious toxic chemical.”

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