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Breakthrough in the scientific discussion of endocrine disruptors

13/2016, 15.04.2016

International experts clarify open questions in hazard identification of harmful endocrine substances

On the occasion of an expert conference organised by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and held in Berlin on 11 and 12 April 2016, a consensus on the identification of endocrine disruptors was reached. Among other things, the document produced lists the criteria for identifying the hazard potential of harmful endocrine substances. 23 internationally renowned scientists and four observers of the EU Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) participated in the conference. "The consensus reached is a breakthrough in the scientific discussion on endocrine disruptors and of great importance for the consumer health protection in Europe", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "The results can support the European Commission in taking science-based  measures where required to reduce endocrine disruptors, for instance in consumer products, pesticides and also in food." A workshop report is planned to be published on the web page BfR soon. The presentations given during the meeting and a first conclusion are available in the form of videos at http://www.bfr.bund.de/en/international_expert_meeting_on_endocrine_disruptors-197246.html. Scientific publication of the consensus papers is also in the pipeline.

The 23 scientists from Europe, the USA and Japan came together in Berlin in order to discuss fundamental principles and open questions regarding the assessment of endocrine disruptors. The two-day expert conference focused on the following issues:

  • How are endocrine disruptors to be defined in the regulatory context of health assessment?
  • What are the general principles of endocrine effects from a toxicological, pharmacological and endocrinological perspective?
  • What uncertainties impact on the identification of endocrine disruptors for regulatory decision-making?
  • What endocrine-mediated adverse effects can already be established by means of existing test methods?
  • What scientific research activities should be initiated in order to better identify endocrine disruptors?

The aim of the scientific debate was to discuss the questions and, where possible, to find solutions for existing differences of opinion.

Endocrine active substances influence the body’s hormonal balance. This includes specifically manufactured substances such as certain pharmaceuticals and substances naturally occurring in plants such as phytoestrogens. Chemical substances produced to protect plants, fight harmful organisms and preserve products, for example as additives in foods or cosmetics, can also have such effects. Substances that cause harm to the health of an organism by changing the hormonal system are called endocrine disruptors. Sound scientific identification of endocrine disruptors is required as a first step in determining, in a subsequent risk assessment, whether the use of a chemical substance or product poses a health risk to consumers. Until now, scientists working in this field held different views on the foundations of the assessment of harmful endocrine substances.

Sound scientific foundations are an important precondition for creating uniform criteria at the EU level on how substances and products with harmful endocrine properties can in future be assessed in terms of their health effects. The results of the conference could therefore assist the EU Commission in its task of developing regulatory criteria for the identification of endocrine disruptors in pesticides and other chemicals and products.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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