Health before Profits overcoming the Vested Interests barrier

You would think if a chemical has been shown to have links with breast cancer causation, testicular cancer or decreasing fertility, it would be banned immediately – especially from products people come into contact with every day through their work or at home? If they are produced at all in the first place, toxic chemicals should only be found on a high dusty shelf in a laboratory and in a tightly sealed bottle labelled Toxic Do Not Open! But alas this is not the case. Why, we ask ourselves? Where is the logic? Surely something that could harm our health should override profit? Not so, and we have the barrier of vested interest to thank for this continuing exposure.

A recent report from the Corporate European Observatory stated that two thirds of the scientists involved in decision making on controversial and potentially harmful chemicals for use in the EU had at least one conflict of interest, that is, they had direct or indirect links with the affected industries.

This, unfortunately, is not an isolated case.

According to the CEO report, scientific committees whose work it is to evaluate whether a chemical or substance is safe to use or not, can be biased due to committee members being directly paid by the affected industry or by working in an institution or facility which receives funding from that industry. Sometimes the research used to make a decision on the health and safety of that chemical has been provided by the industry which manufactures the ingredient or product. When the safety of a specific ingredient is reviewed, science that has already been dismissed as not applicable cannot be re-examined. This is the case for one of the chemicals case studied in the CEO report, parabens, still widely used as preservatives in cosmetics and still linked with breast cancer.

Vested interests can manifest themselves repeatedly in the regulation of chemicals especially when it comes to chemicals used as ingredients in a myriad of everyday products. An award winning report from Stéphane Horel and Brian Bienkowski,“Special report: Scientists critical of EU chemical policy have industry ties,” published by the Environmental Health News in Sept 2013 highlighted the influenced exerted by scientific journal editors over content relating to chemical safety.

The report revealed that of the 18 toxicology journal editors who signed a controversial editorial, 17 have collaborated with the chemical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, tobacco, pesticide or biotechnology industries. Some have received research funds from industry associations, while some have served as industry consultants or advisers. The stakes are high for this issue as it’s to do with efforts to regulate Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) in the EU, the first time ever this has been tried. The new rules will have global ramifications for the companies who produce products containing these chemicals, or use them in services they provide, so it is in their best interest to stall proceedings.

Of course industry lobbying influences policy on chemicals. The stalling on the EDC legislation, due to “Industry lobbying’ has put regulation back by 3-5 years, which was entirely the intention,” according to Prof Andreas Kortenkamp quoted in the Guardian. More information on this issue can be found here on the EDC Free website.

So how do we get over, around, or break through this barrier? We must demand increased transparency, safety above profits, and unbiased science advice given by unbiased advisers. The first step to overcoming a barrier is to identify that it exists, then we gain the power to overcome it.