Drastic US reform of chemical rules could crush industry - Dooley

07 March 2012 17:03  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Draconian reform of US chemical controls could shut down the nation’s process industry just as European restrictions on genetically modified seeds have impeded agriculture there, a top chemicals sector official said on Wednesday.

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), warned that US policymakers considering reform of the principal US chemicals regulatory law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), should consider Europe’s example in over-regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Speaking on the closing day of the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference, Dooley noted that the US chemicals industry has experienced a major renaissance in the past five years as newly abundant natural gas supplies from shale formations have restored its competitive feedstock cost advantage over foreign rivals.

However, he said, while success of the US chemicals sector will depend in part on continued access to affordable energy and feedstock, “equally important to ensuring our country’s long-term competitive advantage is a sound chemical regulatory system”.

He said a sound, science-based regulatory system should promote safety, instill public confidence and support chemicals-sector innovation.

“As we pursue efforts to modernise America’s chemical management system and reform TSCA, innovation and safety must be viewed as twin priorities,” he said.

Dooley noted that some interest groups and members of the US Congress view the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) programme as a model for TSCA reform.

“But there is ample reason to be sceptical of REACH as an appropriate model for the US,” he said. “We simply do not have evidence that REACH will promote safety and innovation.”

He cited a study issued last week by Indiana University that found that, while it is too soon to say whether REACH has improved Europe’s environment, the programme is too complex and burdensome.

Dooley compared US and EU regulation of genetically modified organisms, including GMO crop seeds that increase yields while reducing water and land use.

Without the innovation in seeds brought about by genetic modification, he said, “our planet simply won’t be able to meet the nutritional needs of its people. But Europe’s regulatory system has effectively shut that industry down.”

As a consequence of EU restrictions on GMO seeds and foods – limits widely held to be the most severe globally – Dooley said that European “companies are moving related operations elsewhere”.

He noted that, in January this year, BASF said “it was leaving the European plant biotechnology market to concentrate on the major markets in North and South America”.

In addition, he said he had learnt recently that Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta is moving much of its genetic research work to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

“We must learn from these lessons and assert US leadership by crafting a new regulatory regime that can serve as the gold standard for global chemicals management,” he said.

Dooley said that, along with others in the chemicals industry, he dismissed the TSCA-reform bill pending in the US Senate as unworkable.

He also indicated that he does not expect any substantive work on TSCA reform to be done in Congress during this election year.

Co-sponsored by ACC and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), the GlobalChem conference concluded on Wednesday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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