Germany v Commission re toys: ECJ confirms that recourse to precautionary principle is no walk in the park.

The ECJ this morning held in Germany v Commission (for context see my earlier posting). On 1 March 2012, the European Commission only partially (and temporarily) granted Germany approval for upholding stricter limits on limit values for lead, barium, arsenic, antimony, mercury, nitrosamines and nitrosatable substances in toys (for the decision, see here).
The ECJ stood with Germany only in its appeal against the EC’s decision on values for lead: this decision was internally inconsistent (acknowledgement of higher public health protection in the German measures while at the same time unfounded (and vague) limitation in time for those German measures). However for all other substances, the ECJ rejected Germany’s appeal. In doing so it emphasises the burden of proof which the precautionary principle implies (often misrepresented by opponents of the principle). The review of the available scientific evidence shows first of all the challenges associated with the different methods employed by Germany cq the EC. The latter’s measures employ migration limits (migration being the amount of toxic substances not just released from the product but effectively absorbed by the human body), while Germany’s measures rely on bioavailability (the amount of chemical substances released from the product and available for human absorption, even if not all of that is necessarily effectively absorbed).

The ECJ supports the room for Member States to have divergent opinions on risk than those of the EC, however, it needs to show that the national measures better protect human health and do so in a proportionate way. The crucial shortcoming in Germany’s proof turned out to be that its exposure scenarios were, in the view of the ECJ, unrealistic (and not supported by further scientific reporting): they imply simultaneous exposure of a child to all possible toy safety Directive scenarios: dry, brittle, powder-like or pliable toy material; AND liquid or stocky toy material; AND scraped-off toy material.

Hum. That such simultaneous exposure should necessarily be unrealistic is of course open to debate. Many of us have tales to tell of children achieving the impossible with toys clearly not designed for the game a child or group of children might at some point concoct . (Reminiscent of the inherently flawed furniture endurance tests displayed by large furniture chains: I have always thought that letting our family loose on the displayed piece of kitchen, bathroom or dining room furniture would be a more realistic test than an engineered testroom).

As often with risk assessment and risk management: the final conclusion almost always remains open to discussion.

Geert.

 

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