On the 13th of March, the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article concerning banning the pesticide mancozeb. In the article Jeroen Voorbraak, director of UPL Breda, states that mancozeb is a relatively harmless substance and that it has not been shown to cause Parkinson’s disease or to have hormone-disrupting properties. His claim turns out to be mostly false.
Jeroen Voorbraak is the director of UPL Breda. UPL is a company that, amongst other things, produces agrochemical products and offers crop protection solutions. For the last three years UPL is working with increasing efforts to prove the safety of the controversial pesticide mancozeb, which has been on the market since 1962. The composition of mancozeb is partially the same to that of maneb. Maneb has been banned since 2017 because it is scientifically proven that the product increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. The similarity between the two pesticides leads to concerns about the safety of mancozeb, which the European Commission is now working on to ban as well.
Despite what Voorbraak claims, it is scientifically proven that mancozeb contains hormone-disrupting characteristics. The main metabolite in mancozeb, ETU (ethylenethiourea) was repeatedly tested on human subjects in several studies. Eventually, ETU was classified to be reprotoxic, meaning it could harm the unborn child.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder where the neurons slowly die. A reduced production of the neurotransmitter dopamine results into the symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s like motoric issues etc.
Dick Swaab, neurobiologist specialised in Parkinson’s disease, said that the substance rotenone is used to induce Parkinson in laboratory animals. He also said that rotenone can’t be used as a pesticide because of its neurotoxic effect. Remarkably mancozeb, being similar to maneb, can be associated with rotenone but there are no studies that proof that mancozeb causes Parkinson’s disease.
In 2002 the Italian Cancer Research Center Bentivoglio started the first study on the effect of mancozeb on farmers who use this pesticide on a professional level. For over two years 150 rats were injected with mancozeb. Eventually, every single one of them died. Based on this study mancozeb is considered to be a cancerous substance.
On the 10th of February, a Crop Protection and Neighbourhood Committee was set up in the Netherlands. Their goal is to investigate whether there are health risks arising from the use of plant protection products. Majorie Van Duursen, Professor of Environmental Health and Toxicology at the University of Amsterdam, is a member of that committee. She told us that the European Commission will most likely propose to ban the use of mancozeb on the European market after January 2021 because of their reproductive, toxic and hormone-disturbing effects. Also the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, ANSES, asks a ban on mancozeb in its advice of the 10th of April 2020.
From this information we can conclude that the claim made by Jeroen Voorbraak in Trouw about the safety of mancozeb is mostly false. Voorbraak has a point saying that there’s no proof of mancozeb causing Parkinson’s disease. Although it is scientifically proven that the pesticide influences the hormone levels in an individual and can lead to reprotoxic effects. Unfortunately we couldn’t find out which sources Voorbraak based his claim on. Voorbraak has so far not responded to us, despite our multiple efforts.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © GJ, VHM, ZGB, AP University College Antwerp, Belgium
With kind contribitions by Alexander Maeder, Hochschule der Medien, Stuttgart, Germany
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