Jytte Guteland

We will not be satisfied until the EU's precautionary principle is also applied to EDCs


MEP Jytte Guteland: “My goal is to push for better legislation”

The EU Commission's legislative proposal regarding the use of endocrine disruptors in pesticides was at risk of losing its teeth. It was therefore gratifying that the Parliament agreed to demand a more comprehensive legislation, writes Member of the European Parliament Jytte Guteland.

This time of year it always feels important to me to summarize the political year, both to learn lessons for next year and to be strengthened by what has gone well. Most of my autumn has been filled with debates and decisions around climate, chemicals – and bees.

One of my areas of responsibility in the European Parliamentis endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), as I am a spokesperson for my political group. Last autumn, after pressures from the Parliament and the Swedish government, the Commission finally put forward a proposal on how to better regulate the use of EDCs. However, there is still a long way to go before we have a satisfactory and protective legislation.

Harmful to ecosystems and biodiversity

EDCs harm both humans and the ecosystems. Scientists see a connection between these chemicals and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes, and fertility disorders, among other things. Particularly foetuses, children and youth are exposed when their hormone system is under development, and thus more sensitive. EDCs are also harmful to ecosystems and biodiversity.

The use of chemical pesticides that are designed to affect the hormone system, contributes to the depletion of ecosystems and biodiversity. This development is alarming, both for our forests and fields, but also in lakes and seas.

82% fewer insects in the summer

The perhaps clearest evidence of this development comes from a German research team which has collected insects in 63 nature reserves since 1989. They now want to draw attention to the fact that the number of insects has declined radically – 82 percent fewer insects in the summer, and 76 percent fewer throughout the year, compared to 1989.

I remember my childhood summers as filled with playing and leaping in the greenery among buzzing insects. To some extent, this is probably a somewhat exaggerated and idyllic post-construction of my childhood which has been shaped in adulthood  – but I am still quite sure that I actually encounter fewer insects during summer nowadays compared to when I was a child.

Insects are vital for our ecosystems. They pollinate 80 percent of all wild plants. Our food supply is completely dependent on insects like bees, bumblebees and butterflies. Small birds feed on insects. The economic consequences if the insects were to disappear completely are almost unimaginable.

We need to get better at regulating EDCs and other pesticides

EDCs also affect aquatic organisms and the animals in our lakes and oceans. The effects are clear – not least in the Baltic Sea, where science shows links between EDCs and impaired fertility, poorer immune system, worsened metabolism, and also cancer.

Previous emissions have made the sea full of long-lasting hazardous substances, but the water is also polluted by thousands of new chemicals, which today are allowed to be used, even though we do not know if they may harm the environment and wildlife or not. Among these new substances, there are EDCs from pesticides that end up in the sea through run-off from farm land.

Neither reasonable nor sustainable

My conclusion is therefor that we need to improve the regulation of EDCs and other pesticides, to safeguard animals and nature both on land and in our lakes and seas. Vigorous efforts must be made to stop this depletion of the ecosystems.

During the autumn, we in the European Parliament decided to object to the Commission's proposal on EDCs in pesticides. Our main objection was that the proposal contained a special exception for substances that also affect so-called non-target organisms, i.e insects and other animals that you do not really want to target, such as bees, butterflies or crabs. The Commission proposed that such substances would be exempted from legislation, which in practice would make the legislation more toothless.

I am glad that the Parliament supported my initiative to oppose the proposed rules and, instead, demand a comprehensive legislation for EDCs in the area of pesticides. Following our pressure, the Commission has now come back with a new proposal – this time without the sweeping exception for chemicals that affect non-target organisms. The new proposal still leaves a great deal to be desired, but is a step in the right direction for better protection of human health and nature.

My goal is to push for better legislation in all areas where EDCs affect humans and the environment

In spring I will lead the Parliament's work on the so called Sustainability Directive, to strengthen the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly pesticides in Europe. Here too, the issue of strengthened protection against EDCs will be central.

Next, my goal is to push for better legislation in all areas where EDCs affect humans and the environment, for instance the use of these substances in different products, such as food packaging, makeup, sunscreen and clothing.

We will not be satisfied until the EU's precautionary principle is also applied to EDCs.