Ban of chemicals in breast milk defeated

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The Independent Online

Labour MEPs have "appalled" environment ministers by unexpectedly blocking plans to control dangerous chemicals that build up in breast milk.

They angered colleagues and environmentalists by defying the socialist whip in the European Parliament to vote down the plans. The moves had already been agreed by environment ministers, including Britain's Michael Meacher, and accepted by the MEPs' representatives in committee negotiations.

The result, described by other MEPs as "a disaster", is bound to lead to a Whitehall row as it appears to have been the result of pressure from the Department of Trade and Industry encroaching into Mr Meacher's area of responsibility. Mr Meacher told The Independent on Sunday yest- erday: "I am appalled by this vote and will vigorously pursue this matter on Monday."

The planned controls, in an EC White Paper, would have required the industry to investigate the safety of chemicals which build up in breast milk and body fat before being put on the market. It would have to show there was a genuine need for them and that there were no realistic alternatives.

More than 350 chemicals have been found in breast milk. These include chemicals from perfumes and dry-cleaning fluids, as well as pesticides and industrial raw materials. Some are suspected of causing cancer, impairing the immune system and disrupting health hormones.

Torben Lund MEP, a former Danish health minister, said that the British MEPs' vote was "a surprise to all of us". He called it "a disaster for the environment".

David Bowe, the Labour environment spokesman in the European Parliament, indicated that the MEPs had come under pressure to oppose the plans by the DTI, which he said "did not like" them and had "made its voice heard".

Elizabeth Salter-Green, the director of WWF's European toxics programme, said yesterday: "Labour MEPs have not done their job in protecting citizens and the environment. I cannot believe that they have voted against these chemicals being better controlled, so that the children I hope to have will have the best possible start in life."

Mike Childs, campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The breast milk of millions of European women will go on being contaminated because MEPs have been more concerned about protecting the interests of industry than human health."