Chemical industry can carry on regardless

17 November 2005

Chemical industry can carry on regardless

Today the European Parliament approved a directive which will broadly mean business as usual for the chemical industry in relation to any products whose health risks are imperfectly understood. The so-called REACH proposal has been so diluted by the centre-right Christian Democrats of the European People's Party political group and their Liberal allies that it will have little impact. The assurance from the Dutch Christian Democrat Member Ria Oomen-Ruijten that even those critical amendments which had been successful would not, given the balance of forces, survive the votes in the Council of Ministers or the Parliament's own Second Reading (where they would need the support of more than 50% of all MEPs, and not just those attending) convinced the SP's Members to vote against.

Kartika LiotardCommenting on the outcome, SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard said ”The CDA is playing a dirty political game. First they weaken the proposal entirely in line with the wishes of the chemical industry, yet remain unhappy about a number of critical notes sounded by the Parliament in narrowly-carried amendments. Next they go into the chamber counting heads, and shamelessly announce that they will vote in favour of REACH but only because they know that in the Council and at the next parliamentary vote, when more support will be needed, even these limited measures will bite the dust. In this way they make themselves look like friends of the environment and public health while cocking a snook at the public's wishes.”

REACH is an extremely extensive proposal under which the chemical industry would be obliged to conduct better research into the toxicity of its products. The European Parliament's Environment Committee passed a number of amendments sharpening the proposal up, including improvements to laboratory animal welfare (necessary because of the increased testing which the measure would require) and to the licensing system for registered chemical substances, both of which survived today's vote by the full Parliament.

Yet as Ms Liotard explained “The compromise proposal approved today nevertheless would demand that information be supplied on only around ten percent of the chemical substances which are produced in quantities of up to ten tonnes per year. And even that will perhaps not survive the vote at Second Reading. Today's events were very disappointing. The chances of bringing about an improvement were good, but the cynicism of the Christian Democrat and Liberal groups put an end to them.”

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