EU Commission ignores demands of European Citizens' Initiative “Stop Glyphosate”

Press briefing by Corporate Europe Observatory on the transparency and independence demands of the ECI (“Demand 2”)

Background: The Second demand of the Stop Glyphosate ECI called forthe scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval to be based “only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticides industry”.

- Transparency

The Commission’s communication: “increase the transparency of studies commissioned by industry...”, “including measures such as public access to raw data from study reports”, “while respecting… the protection of legitimate confidential business information”.

Analysis by Martin Pigeon, agribusiness researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory:

“What the European Commission is proposing seems in line with recent case law of the ECJ, which EFSA interpreted too restrictively in the glyphosate case as they were afraid to get sued by industry for trade secrets infringement. The European Commission’s proposed changes will likely only force EFSA to comply with the existing legislation.”

“That said, the devil is in the detail – a lot of which remains to be worked out: the proposed changes are still rather vague. Nothing is said, for instance, on the format in which this data will be published (machine-readable or not?) or whether the disclosure will be systematic and pro-active or only on demand”.

“Based on their statement, the European Commission is not considering to opt for full transparency, as it wants to respect the protection of so-called “confidential business information”. Given that some of these so-called “business secrets”, including information on pesticide residue levels, are also relevant for risk assessment processes, this is unfortunate. For example, the pesticides industry usually considers information on residues as core “business secrets” in the pesticides application dossiers, but we know from the Monsanto Papers that for instance certain glyphosate formulations “unavoidably” contained very toxic residues (nitrosamine impurities) that the company did its best to keep at low concentrations. Such information can be very important from a risk assessment perspective and it is sad that the European Commission considers commercial rights to be more important than public health regarding this point, and in reponse to our demands appears to underline the status quo rather than improve the system.”

“If these changes are included in a revised General Food Law, whose REFIT review is being finalised at the moment by the EC’s services, then this could be an improvement as such a transparency disclosure regime will apply to all products assessed by EFSA, not just pesticides.

- Independence

The Commission’s proposal - fact sheet and communication:

The Commission remains committed to the principle that public money should not be used to commission studies which would help the industry to put a product on the market”.

A systematic approach that would oblige public authorities to commission all studies for active substances and plant protection products – while maintaining the principle that the costs are covered by industry – may prove to be challenging given the high numbers of studies required to support all applications for active substance approval and product authorisation.

Analysis by Martin Pigeon, Corporate Europe Observatory:

“It beggars belief that the Commission hides behind capacity arguments – and even misrepresents the ECI’s demands – to not solve one of the biggest flaws in its procedures. The basis for the EU’s risk assessment of pesticides is going to remain data submitted by industry. With keeping such an input, how can one expect better outcomes?”.

“The ECI’s proposal simply contained the introduction of an independent public body, which could have been EFSA itself, to commission the studies while charging industry for the costs, not the taxpayer as the Commission’s press release scandalously pretends (the Commission knows perfectly what our demands are here and is playing a very strange game by publicly misrepresenting our demands). The additional costs would have been for the added capacity to manage the commissioning and “blinding” of new studies; and the number of new studies to be performed each year is not as high as the Commission and EFSA usually pretend (the figure of 20.000 studies recently mentioned by EFSA is the number of studies analysed each year by EFSA, which includes all the old studies submitted for re-approvals).”

“The list of measures considered by the European Commission focuses on finding the cheapest possible fixes to the flawed existing system. Additional capacity at EFSA is for sure needed to make sure the Authority actually does what it pretends to already be doing: systematically checking the data it receives instead of relying on industry’s assessments, and only checking in the event of a major controversy. But there isn’t anything anything planned as of yet for it”.

“If the European Commission is able to find billions of euros to finance public-private research partnerships (the Joint Technology Initiatives) under the EU Research Programme Horizon 2020, that largely qualify as opaque subsidies to large corporations, why can it not find a few additional dozens million euros to equip EFSA to perform this task to better protect the health and environment of more 500 million EU citizens (EFSA’s current budget is less than 80 million euros)? Hiding behind Member States is too easy and the European Commission must at last become more serious in its task of protecting public health and the environment in the light of the ongoing discussions around the next EU Budget and Research Programme, FP9 (the European Commission is expected to publish its MFF proposals in May)”.