EU safety regulations – Dont mar legislation with pseudoscience

328. Dietrich DR, Dekant W, Greim H, Heslop-Harrison P, Berry C, Boobis A, Hengstler JG, Sharpe R. 2016. EU safety regulations: Don’t mar legislation with pseudoscience. Nature 535: 355 (21 July 2016) doi:10.1038/535355c

We are concerned that some of the European Union’s processes for setting safety regulations for chemicals are being influenced by media and pseudoscience scaremongering. Pseudoscience has no place in such decisions, which should be based purely on well-defined and transparent evidence.

For example, endocrine disruptors are being blamed for obesity and type 2 diabetes (J. Legler et al. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 100, 12781288; 2015) despite the absence of supporting evidence for this, and despite food and sugar over-consumption being established as a proven cause. As a consequence, the European Commission’s criteria for regulating endocrine-disrupting compounds as a threat to human health are based on correlational, not causal, studies (see

Conflicts of interest can contribute to the problem, beyond the commercial motivation of industry. Some non-governmental organizations might need to maintain public concerns to boost charitable donations. Decision-makers might prefer to disregard evidence-based data that contradict a precautionary viewpoint. And some scientists put securing research funds above objective appraisal of the evidence.

Acting on hazard identification alone relieves the scaremongering party of the burden of proof, when harm is simply assumed. As a result, regulations can become unnecessarily restrictive. They may even be damaging, for example if an agricultural ban were to be imposed on triazole fungicides because of their endocrine-disrupting potential. The risk to humans at such levels of exposure would be negligible (J. E. Chambers et al. Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 44, 176210; 2014). It makes no sense to override such evidence with a blanket ban on potentially hazardous chemicals that ignores the public’s demonstrable low level of exposure.


About Pat Heslop-Harrison

Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology, University of Leicester. Group Leader, South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Chief Editor, Annals of Botany. Research: genome evolution, breeding and biodiversity in agricultural species; the impact of agriculture; evalutation of research and advanced training.
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1 Response to EU safety regulations – Dont mar legislation with pseudoscience

  1. Pingback: Allowing pseudoscience into EU risk assessment processes is eroding public trust in science experts and in science as a whole- The bigger picture | Molecular cytogenetics and genome evolution

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