Bush steps up fight against European safety testing

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President George Bush is mounting an intensive campaign to force European countries to drop safety tests expected to save thousands of lives each year, internal US government documents seen by The Independent on Sunday reveal. Britain, which has been generally supportive, last week denounced the measures as "disastrously wrong".

The documents - which include diplomatic cables signed by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell - show that the Bush administration has threatened Europe with trade sanctions if it goes ahead with the tests, which are designed to protect workers and the public from highly toxic chemicals.

It has already succeeded in weakening the proposals, even though they were approved in principle two years ago by EU governments and the European Parliament. And environmentalists fear that Mr Bush - with Tony Blair's help - will now succeed in emasculating them altogether.

The tests are designed to identify the most dangerous chemicals threatening Europeans, including cancer-causing and "gender-bender" substances, so that they can be controlled. Only a tiny proportion of the 100,000 or so man-made chemicals used in the EU has ever been tested for the effects on the people who use them.

It plans to reverse the burden of proof by getting industry to provide evidence of the hazards or safety of the chemicals it sells, rather than marketing them and waiting for governments to try to pick out the most dangerous ones when they have already done harm.

The European Commission estimates that it would prevent up to 4,300 cases of cancer a year among chemical workers alone; far more lives could be expected to be saved among the public at large.

The US pressure seems to be changing British policy. Up to now Britain has taken a generally favourable approach to the directive. But last week Patricia Hewitt denounced it as "disastrously wrong".