EFSA’s scientists have recently made significant strides in addressing the issue of potential “endocrine disruptors” in pesticides. Their work is a response to recent EU rules that changed, from 2014 onwards, how EFSA evaluates active substances used in pesticides.
Head of Pesticides
Dr Jose Tarazona is Head of Pesticides at EFSA. An environmental toxicologist with decades of experience at national and European level assessing pesticides and other chemicals, Dr Tarazona sheds some light on his team’s initiative.
What has changed recently in EFSA’s work on pesticides?
Jose Tarazona: The new EU legislation has changed EFSA’s role in this complex area. The new rules specifically require us to identify substances regarded as having “endocrine disrupting properties” that may be harmful to humans or non-target organisms (such as birds, mammals or fish). As with other potential risks, we are required to assess these possible effects in two specific ways: the potential hazards (capacity to cause harm) of the substance; and the actual risk when used as a pesticide (for example, through exposure via ingested vegetables or fruit). This “parallel approach” helps to provide a scientific basis for either risk-based or hazard-based decision-making.
Why is EFSA telling people about this work now?
JT: The European Commission has been meeting with a broad spectrum of stakeholders to establish criteria for defining what is meant by “endocrine disrupting properties”. Those discussions are on-going and involve many parties. In the meantime, the legislation provides “interim criteria” that are applicable. Given the high level of public interest in “endocrine disruptors”, we felt it was important to inform a wide audience about how we are dealing with these aspects already.
What does this work involve?
JT: We have systematically assessed the available scientific evidence for the potential endocrine-related effects of these substances on humans. This means we evaluate – in addition to the other possible effects we always evaluate – the potential of these substances to have adverse effects on humans due to alterations in the hormone system, and the extent to which humans are at risk of this type of health effect when exposed to the substance through pesticides use. Unfortunately, the information for non-target animals is usually insufficient so we have not always been able to do that.
How important is this work?
JT: Besides revealing which substances might be of concern, this has also allowed us to see how much scientific evidence is out there, where the data gaps are and to make recommendations for future studies. We are applying this approach for new active substances and for re-evaluating previously authorised substances that are up for renewal, which is a major part of our work.
What have been your main findings so far?
JT: Since 2014, we have published conclusions that explicitly summarise the assessment of potential endocrine effects for 41 active substances for use in pesticides as part of our on-going work programme which is defined by legislation. Of these, 15 are new substances and the remaining 26 are renewals of previously authorised substances. We have identified hazard or risk-based concerns for 15 of these substances. Of the others, 24 revealed no specific concerns while for two substances we recommend additional studies to confirm this.
If EFSA says there are ‘concerns’ about some substances, what happens next?
JT: We have decided to publish a report on this work to provide EU risk managers in the Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States, as well as stakeholders and the public, with a transparent assessment of this work. Our report will help to summarise EFSA’s contribution in this area. Risk managers will discuss our assessments and decide if action is needed such as further research or restrictions on use.
Will you need to re-evaluate these substances when the Commission finalises its criteria?
JT: If the final criteria established by the Commission differ from the interim ones, we may need to update the hazard assessment part. Regarding the scientific assessment, several conclusions indicate the need for additional information, and we will re-evaluate the assessments if the additional information becomes available.
- Technical Report on Assessment of endocrine disrupting properties in EFSA Conclusions on the Pesticides Peer Review
Understanding Science: Food safety and the endocrine system?