Scientific Opinion of the PPR Panel on the follow-up of the findings of the External Scientific Report 'Literature review of epidemiological studies linking exposure to pesticides and health effects'
In 2013, EFSA published a comprehensive systematic review of epidemiological studies published from 2006 to 2012 investigating the association between pesticide exposure and many health outcomes. Despite the considerable amount of epidemiological information available, the quality of much of this evidence was rather low and many limitations likely affect the results so firm conclusions cannot be drawn. Studies that do not meet the ‘recognised standards’ mentioned in the Regulation (EU) No 1107/2009 are thus not suited for risk assessment. In this Scientific Opinion, the EFSA Panel on Plant Protection Products and their residues (PPR Panel) was requested to assess the methodological limitations of pesticide epidemiology studies and found that poor exposure characterisation primarily defined the major limitation. Frequent use of case–control studies as opposed to prospective studies was considered another limitation. Inadequate definition or deficiencies in health outcomes need to be avoided and reporting of findings could be improved in some cases. The PPR Panel proposed recommendations on how to improve the quality and reliability of pesticide epidemiology studies to overcome these limitations and to facilitate an appropriate use for risk assessment. The Panel recommended the conduct of systematic reviews and meta-analysis, where appropriate, of pesticide observational studies as useful methodology to understand the potential hazards of pesticides, exposure scenarios and methods for assessing exposure, exposure–response characterisation and risk characterisation. Finally, the PPR Panel proposed a methodological approach to integrate and weight multiple lines of evidence, including epidemiological data, for pesticide risk assessment. Biological plausibility can contribute to establishing causation.