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Use of science in risk assessment of pesticides

Risk assessment of pesticides is based almost entirely on tests performed by chemical industry. Regulators develop data requirements and standard tests; industry is obliged to do these tests and deliver them to regulators for evaluation.

For many years already PAN-Europe and others have been arguing for considering open literature in decision-making, the research done by independent scientists at universities and institutes, published in journals and peer-reviewed. Published peer-reviewed research in general is of a higher quality and reliability than industry tests. Open literature is discussed in public on meetings and is many times repeated by other scientists to build on the results of their colleagues. Peer-review results in an evaluation of high-level experts in the same fields and leads to a rejection of publication in many cases to filter out low-quality studies. Industry tests lack most of the time publication, peer-review, open discussion and repeating.

In the adoption of pesticide regulation 1107/2009 one of the main elements of progress was the inclusion of a provision saying “scientific peer-reviewed open literature” needs to be taken into account. EFSA got the role of making a guideline how to do this. So far everything OK.

Summer 2010 EFSA published its draft-guideline on the ‘use of science’ for public consultation. It appeared EFSA completely changed the definition and deleted “open” as well as “peer-review”. All kind of ‘grey’ literature could now also be taken into account. Further EFSA allowed industry to search for scientific literature based on very narrow ‘search terms’ and even suggests industry can search only for standard tests. If this would become true nothing would be found because independent scientists hardly use standard tests. Independent scientists use all kind of methodology and ways of exposure because they are exploring. Doing standard tests would mean they never discover anything new. With this position EFSA entirely undermines the provision in the Regulation and disrespects the political decision to take independent science into account.

PAN-Europe submitted comments in the consultation, wrote letters to Commissioners to alarm them, and started a “access to documents’ procedure together with ClientEarth to find out what went wrong in EFSA and if undue influence was exerted.
European Parliament should also get involved now the provisions of the Regulation are under fire.

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