EFSA backs ban on chlorpyrifos

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages /D-Keine
© GettyImages /D-Keine
The controversial pesticide does not meet criteria for the renewal of its EU approval, says the EFSA.

The European Commission has announced it will propose to the Member States a ban on the insecticide chlorpyrifos, following a recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Chlorpyrifos, mostly used in fruits and vegetables, is currently undergoing a scientific assessment by EFSA as part of its reauthorization application. Its license in the EU expires at the end of January 2020.

Although the study has not been completed, the agency has declared that the substance "does not meet the criteria required by the legislation for the renewal of its authorization in the European Union (EU)", ​adding "it will present a proposal not to renew the authorization of active substances​".

 The European Commission asked EFSA to provide an initial assessment of the available human health outcomes, the agency said.

"EFSA has identified problems with possible genotoxic effects as well as neurological effects during development, supported by epidemiological data indicating effects on children,” it stated. This means that no safe exposure level - or toxicological reference value - can be set for the substance. "

Already banned in some EU countries

According to French newspaper Le Monde ​last month, a study in the United States published in Marchshowed “an increase in the frequency of autism and early brain damage in children exposed to chlorpyrifos before and after birth​.”

It cited other US studies that showed that exposure to chlorpyrifos or its organophosphorus cousins, before birth or in the following months, is associated with deficits of IQ, retarded mental development, reduced working memory, attention with or without hyperactivity. Le Monde ​claimed at the time that the European Commission was preparing to propose its withdrawal from the market

Since the insecticide was placed on the market in 2005 eight EU countries have already banned products containing chlorpyrifos. Since 2016, France has allows an exception for spinach.

Campaigners have called for zero tolerance on the pesticide

According to Pesticide Action Network Europe, a campaign group, chlorpyrifos is among the top 15 active substances most frequently found in European unprocessed food and prominently present in fruit. 

Chlorpyrifos is most often detected in citrus fruits: more than 1 out of 3 sampled grapefruits (39%) and lemons (36%), and 1 out of 4 sampled oranges (29%) and mandarins (25%) contained chlorpyrifos residues, according to the group.

Exposure to chlorpyrifos, it claims, even in small doses, can harm children’s brain development and hormonal systems. Scientists have linked it to decreases of IQ in children, working memory loss, endocrine disruption, autism and Parkinson’s Disease.

Speaking in June, Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director at the Health and Environment Alliance, said: “Parents should not have to worry about harming their children’s health when feeding them fruits like oranges or mandarins, which show the highest levels of chlorpyrifos residues. The body of evidence on neurotoxicity of chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl is compelling. Chronic exposure to low doses such as residues in fruit is linked to a decrease in IQ and working memory loss in children, there should be zero tolerance. We call on national governments and the EU institutions to make the withdrawal of both substances a public health priority.”

Nabil Berbour, Campaign Manager at SumOfUs said: “This toxic pesticide is harmful to children’s brain development and should have been banned a long time ago in Europe as revealed by a series of investigative pieces in the European press this week. It’s time for EU governments to put people’s health before the pesticide industry’s profits.”

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