Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the National Federation of Women's Institutes

  I am writing on behalf of the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) to inform you of the NFWI's concerns with regards to both the hazardous man-made chemicals that contaminate humans and the environment, and our fear that the EU Chemicals Regulation—in its current form—will fail to make a meaningful impact on redressing this grave problem.

  The NFWI is an educational, social, non-party political and non-sectarian organisation. It is the largest women's organisation in the UK, with some 230,000 members in 70 county and island Federations throughout England and Wales, mainly in rural areas. The NFWI policy is made democratically by the adoption of resolutions at Annual Meetings.

  As early as 1960 the NFWI passed a resolution which stated that "this meeting is gravely concerned at the risks associated with the use of highly poisonous sprays, insecticides and weed killers and urges the Government to exercise more stringent control over their use", and in 1962 a resolution was passed stating that "this meeting asks the Government to speed research into the effects on health of the increasing use of chemicals in the production and processing of food and . . . all chemical hazards to foodstuffs be kept under stricter control". In 1970 to address the discovery of the enormity of the threat posed to the environment as a whole by chemicals (amongst other pollutants) a resolution stating that "In view of the ever increasing danger of man's whole environment, the members of the NFWI undertake to do all they can to prevent further damage . . . and urges Government to take immediate preventative and remedial action", was passed. In 1980 a resolution was passed to take "All possible action to avoid prenatal death and damage". Finally, in 1997 the NFWI passed a resolution calling for "Support for Agenda 21". These mandates have committed the NFWI to view the impact of chemicals (as well as other pollutants) on health as one of its highest priorities.

  Since its inception the NFWI members have shown concern for the welfare of children, and to reflect this a very high number of the NFWI resolutions are dedicated to this issue. At present the NFWI is running two campaigns relating to children's health, one of which is our "Chemicals and Health" campaign (run in conjunction with WWF-UK and The Co-operative Bank), which is particularly concerned with the impact of chemicals on child health.

  Humans and animals the world over have been, and continue to be, exposed to man-made industrial or agricultural chemicals, and there is ever increasing evidence to suggest that certain hazardous man-made chemicals have been linked to a rising rate in certain cancers, birth defects, genital deformities and reproductive problems. Early in pregnancy, exposure to solvents and pesticides has been linked to miscarriage and birth defects. Later in pregnancy, exposures to chemicals such as lead, mercury, and PolyChlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been linked to brain damage. Exposure to air pollution raises the risk of low birth weight. Exposure to PCBs can trigger premature labour as they make the uterus more likely to contract. The fact that the unborn child is particularly at risk from these chemicals supports a system of regulation that is underpinned by the precautionary approach.

  The NFWI fully appreciates the valuable role that chemicals play in our society with regards to both health and economic benefits. However the NFWI believes that the chemicals industry should in no way be dependant on chemical substances that have the potential to harm humans, the planet or any of its inhabitants.

  To secure the objective of protecting human health and the environment the NFWI supports the view that the use of chemicals of very high concern, (including very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals and endocrine disrupting chemicals), should only be authorised when there is a no safer alternative, and an overwhelming societal need, and measures to minimise exposure are in place. Failure to ensure the substitution of chemicals of high concern would mean that humans, wildlife, and the environment as a whole would continue to be exposed to hazardous man-made chemicals. Furthermore, it would not deliver a move away from the worst chemicals, nor stimulate the innovation of safer alternatives. The NFWI also believes that there should be public access to all toxicity and risk assessment data so that people are able to take precautions, as they see fit, to protect themselves and their families.

  The NFWI firmly believes that the UK Government should be leading the way by supporting a robust EU Chemical Regulation, which protects future generations of humans, wildlife and the environment as a whole. A regulation that encourages the phase out of the most hazardous chemicals is the most assured method of achieving this goal. In addition to this response the NFWI endorses the response by WWF-UK to the Science And Technology Committee's inquiry on the EU Chemicals Legislation.[35]

  On behalf its members, the NFWI urges the UK Government to prioritise public health (particularly the health of children who have an increased sensitivity to the effects of chemical contamination), our wildlife and the environment by demonstrating a meaningful commitment to a robust EU Chemical Regulation which incorporates the substitution principle, and phases out the most harmful chemicals where safer alternatives exist. The NFWI also asks that the UK Government use its leverage within the EU to push other key member states to support a similarly robust position.

January 2004

35   In supporting this document, the NFWI is indicating its formal agreement only in those areas where it has specific competence, and policy. At the same time, it acknowledges the expertise and authority of WWF-UK in its respective field. In addition, NFWI endorses the general principles outlined at the beginning of the document on the human and environmental benefits that a robust EU Chemical Regulation (as outlined in the body of the document) will bring to society as a whole. Back

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