Pesticides and health: a major challenge for ANSES

INSERM has just published the results of a collective expert appraisal on "pesticides and health" which it undertook at the request of the French Directorate General for Health (DGS). The term "pesticides" globally covers all the products used for pest control, in other words plant protection products (for agricultural use as well as by professional and amateur gardeners), biocides and certain medicinal products (human or veterinary). This study provides a very thorough summary of the current state of scientific knowledge on the links that may be established between exposure to pesticides and the onset of a pathological condition, and groups them into three categories - high, average and low likelihood -, while specifying the level of understanding of the mechanisms of action at play.

This expert appraisal is a very useful contribution for ANSES in the context of its risk assessment work on exposure to pesticides. It reinforces the measures taken over the last fifteen years in the context of the European regulations, to withdraw from the market substances which are clearly suspected to have harmful effects on health, and which are therefore banned in Europe, in particular organochlorines (DDT, lindane, chlordecone [kepone]), as well as organophosphorus compounds (such as parathion), pyrethroids (permethrin, banned for plant protection use) and pyridines (paraquat). These measures cover professional and household use as well as the potential impact of pesticides on those residing or working in close proximity. Exposure of these latter individuals is now taken into account in the context of the regulatory assessment of pesticides prior to marketing authorisation and is currently being revised on the EU level, for finalisation by end 2013.

The INSERM report emphasises a need for better documentation of the actual exposure of farm workers to pesticides. This point is in agreement with the observations made by ANSES, which decided in 2011 to set up a multi-disciplinary expert group dedicated specifically to this issue, and whose goal is to gather data on farm worker exposure, in conjunction with its Expert Committee on plant protection products. This expert appraisal, currently being conducted at the Agency, includes the users of pesticides as well as individuals who may come into contact with treated plants or substances at a later time. The results of this study will be published in late 2014. The Agency will use these results as a basis for proposing possible changes in the European framework for assessment of plant protection products before they receive marketing authorisation, in order to more effectively account for actual exposure situations. 

In its expert report, INSERM also recommends better documentation of the levels and sources of exposure by the general public to pesticides in the various life environments, especially with regard to the relationship between prenatal exposure and child development.  These results illustrate the importance of detailed documentation of domestic exposure, whether through the use of pesticides in a non-professional context or through environmental exposure of those living near treated crops. Starting this year, ANSES is launching an ambitious national survey of domestic pesticide use, which will cover several thousand households, and which will provide initial data in 2014 on the sources of domestic exposure. It will also enable the identification of the most important active substances to be monitored with regard to interior environments.  

ANSES is also in agreement with the recommendations published in INSERM's collective expert appraisal for continuing research work. 

At the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, ANSES is initiating expert appraisal work in order to evaluate the impact of this new data on the national authorisations currently in force.

Find out more: Regulatory pesticide assessment

For public and environmental health reasons, it is essential to evaluate plant protection products, biocides and veterinary medicinal products prior to their being placed on the market, as well as to monitor their residues in food and the environment. 

This work is being conducted within a regulatory framework, through various European regulations whose provisions must be complied with by the Member States. These regulations specify in detail the conditions under which these dossiers must be submitted by manufacturers as well as the items to be assessed prior to their marketing (the types of documents to submit, the typology of the studies to provide in support of the authorisation request as well as the evaluation methods implemented by the health and safety agencies. This evaluation is based on a comparison of the studies requested from the manufacturer in support of their marketing request, and the scientific data available in the literature. 

The studies to be provided, as well as their implementation methods (number of animals, exposure conditions, duration, etc.) are stated in the guidelines. In the same way, the assessment methods employed by the health and safety agencies, the steps to be followed, and the decision-making factors to be examined are set down in guides shared by all the Member States in order to ensure that the assessments performed in the different countries are as similar to each other as possible.  

In France, ANSES is in charge of the assessment of marketing authorisation applications for plant protection products. It issues an Opinion for each application, and the Ministry of Agriculture then delivers its marketing authorisations based on these Opinions.