Junk Science rules in the EU, says Parliamentarian

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ChemicalsA Wall Street Journal Op-ed by a member of the EU Parliament decries the direction being taken by science there: it s back to the dark ages as fear trumps evidence.

In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, MEP Julie Girling, a Brit on the Parliament s Environment (and Agriculture) committees, issues a warning about the direction EU chemical food regulation is headed: smack-dab into a progress-freezing quest for zero risk based on the precautionary principle. This sensible-sounding but treacherous dictum says that until or unless solid evidence of the safety of a substance or technology can be produced, that substance should be banned or restricted (and who determines the validity of the evidence is also subject to debate). Her essay is called The Junk Science Threat to Free Trade.

The problem with this approach is simple: since it s impossible to prove anything safe, by and large, adherence to this principle would bring scientific and technological progress to a halt (as is the case, generally, in the EU).

Here s how MEP Girling puts it:

In Europe, some public interest groups with an aligned activist scientist movement ¦ are waging an emotion-based campaign for "zero risk." They disingenuously offer to legislate and regulate for the impossible an Eden without risk. This approach undermines any attempt to rationally balance risks and benefits.

Front and center today is the EU's move toward a "precautionary" ban on whole classes of chemicals on the basis of a risk to human health that is hypothetical at best, possibly illusory, and certainly never scientifically established. The newest and perhaps most damaging target are substances that have originally been known as "endocrine modulators." They are now stigmatized by anti-chemical activists as "endocrine disruptors," or EDs. The radical and sweeping nature of these efforts is hard to overstate.

Activists blame any number of maladies from cancer to obesity and attention deficit disorder on EDs, which they say mimic the action of hormones produced by our bodies' endocrine systems. But many if not most things that humans come into contact with in the environment can have effects on hormones and could theoretically be classified as "endocrine disruptors," including sunlight, apples, coffee, and soy.

She is somewhat heartened to report that a large, newly-vocal contingent of renowned EU scientists, having stood by while the more press-savvy junk activist-scientists held the floor, are now at last speaking up: they sent a letter to the EU s chief scientist, accusing the policy-making body there (the Commission) of defying common sense by holding to ideas that were based on virtually complete ignorance of all well-established...principles of pharmacology and toxicology. Given that her main concern is enhancing free trade between Europe and the U.S., she goes on to point out that the currently advocated approach to regulating endocrine disruptors risks delaying, or worse still, scuttling movement toward a common approach to evidence and science, which is essential for a trans-Atlantic free trade area.

ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross added, Ms. Girling has hit the nail on the head. On so-called endocrine disruptors and its equally heinous low-dose theory, as well as on GMO agriculture, the EU is headed backwards in science and technology. It this continues, not only will their own people suffer the lack of technological benefits and the disruption in trade, but many of their young people will figure out the nonsense involved in this approach and will seek freer academic and scientific environments in which to study and live. The EU s loss would become our gain.