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Endocrine disruptors: A denial of the state of the science.

The European Commission relies on studies financed by industry. Part 2 of 3.

"The current scientific knowledge": It is this that the European Commission assures it is using to justify its much criticized choices in the regulation of endocrine disruptors. Yet, the Endocrine Society, a major scholarly society, believes that the Commission "ignores [the] state of science". How can such a hiatus be explained?


To document its considerations, the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, responsible for the file at the Commission, carried out an impact assessment of more than 400 pages, which was published in June after having been under lock and key as a state secret. To what specific “scientific knowledge” does it refer?

The decision-making process began in 2009 and the "scientific knowledge" on endocrine disruptors has evolved considerably since thenAbove all, the Commission cites the opinion issued by one of its official agencies, the European Food Safety Authority, in 2013. This opinion is indeed the basis of its regulatory proposal. But the decision-making process began in 2009 and the "scientific knowledge" on endocrine disruptors has evolved considerably since then.

The Endocrine Society produced a review of the science in 2015. It examined 1,322 publications that had been published since its last review, which was actually in 2009. Conclusion? They do not leave “any doubt that EDCs [endocrine disruptors] are contributing to increased chronic disease burdens related to obesity, diabetes mellitus, reproduction, thyroid, cancers, and neuroendocrine and neurodevelopmental functions."

In 2013, some 20 researchers working for nearly two years under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) had reached similar conclusions. Their report sounded the alarm bell on a "global threat that needs to be resolved".

"Controversial interpretation"

These recent additions to “scientific knowledge” are indeed mentioned in the Commission's impact assessment but to disqualify them on the basis that they do not deserve to be taken into consideration. "Evidence is scattered and its interpretation controversial," the assessment report says, "so that a causal link or even a possible association between ED [endocrine disruptors] exposure at environmental levels and the diseases is not agreed among experts.”

In the wake of this damning reception, it reduces the Endocrine Society to a "stakeholder" who has issued a "statement". As for the WHO/UNEP report, “scientific criticism to the general methodology used … was raised,” it indicates, citing a number of publications which it says show that the controversy "seems not resolved." But what publications would be sufficiently authoritative as to be able to knock down the work carried out by the most respected specialists in the field?

Notably, the Commission's negative comments are based on "critical comments," published in 2014, challenging the methods and conclusions of the WHO/UNEP report. Among the ten authors of the comments, seven are working for two consulting companies, Exponent and Gradient Corp, which specialize in scientific issues and are known as "product-defense firms".

But, most importantly, it was industry that sponsored the article through its lobbying organizations: the chemical sector with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the American Chemistry Council and the pesticides sector with CropLife America, CropLife Canada, CropLife International and the European Crop Protection Association.

"Urban legend"

None of this can be unknown to the Commission services. Not only do these sponsors appear clearly in the declaration of interests at the end of the article, but industry itself sent it to them. Cefic sent it by e-mail to about 30 European officials involved in the case on March 17, 2014. In a message consulted by Le Monde, the industrialists explain that they have "commissioned a consortium of scientific experts to independently review the WHO-UNEP report," fearing, in particular, that "despite its serious shortcomings it was being used to call for more precautionary chemicals policy."

Other publications cited in the impact study include a two-page article, one of whose signatories is a person better known for his role as a consultant to the tobacco industry than for his competence on this topic. Among its co-authors are toxicologists paid by the chemical, pesticides and plastic industries.

Another article has again two consultants out of the three authors and talks about endocrine disruptors as an "urban legend" posing “imaginary health risks”. Making fun of the "hypothetical" effects of endocrine disruptors, such as the "reduced penis length and size," they pose the question of "whether the whole issue of EDC is more within the competence of Dr. Sigmund Freud than that of toxicology."

Can these texts really be incorporated into "scientific knowledge"? Why does the Commission give so much credit to documents that resemble lobbying material?

In a momentous editorial published today [November 29, 2016] in Le Monde, independent scientists express concerns about a "distortion of the evidence by industrially sponsored actors." Signed by a hundred experts from two very different fields - endocrine disruption and climate change - their text notes the "dangerous consequences for the health of people and the environment" of this strategy of "manufacturing of doubt".

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