BLOG: Prevention and Protecting our Environment | Breast Cancer UK

BLOG: Prevention and Protecting our Environment

Published 13 Sep 2016

Amid all the uncertainty and anxiety following the EU referendum, one thing I do know is that the UK must continue the environmental protectionism championed by the EU.

It was the EU that made the UK clean up our beaches, tackle air pollution and protect biodiversity. We cannot underestimate the impact the EU has had on our natural environment or on our health. And we cannot afford to slip backwards.

Breast Cancer UK is doing great work with Prevention Week to raise awareness of the risk factors for breast cancer and promote understanding of how our choices and lifestyle can help.

The EU’s precautionary, pro-active approach on risks to health supports the focus of Prevention Week. If we are to leave the EU, we will need campaigners like Breast Cancer UK and its supporters to push the Government to help convince Ministers that these protections should not be dismissed as “red tape” and that they need to consider the human costs of inaction.  

Prevention Week is highlighting the potential risk posed by chemicals. The EU has developed one of the best chemical regulations in the world. Recognising that we knew nothing about the health effects of so many chemicals, new chemicals must be safety tested for their impact on our health and environment. Existing chemicals already in use are being reviewed, leading to substances used in paint and children’s toys being banned.

But Breast Cancer UK will tell you that there is still more to be done. Just because chemicals are used in everyday products, it does not necessarily mean they are safe. There are concerns that endocrine disrupting chemicals are potentially linked to breast cancer – parabens used as preservatives in shampoos or body lotions, or chemicals added to perfume our cosmetics.

It’s not just cosmetics. Breast Cancer UK’s website has plenty of information on reducing our risks – when we’re cooking, cleaning or gardening.

The most commonly used weed killers, for instance, contain glyphosate, which the World Health Organisation has warned could cause cancer. Others have disputed this evidence, so the EU decided that it could only grant a limited, 18 month, extension to the licence for glyphosate, pending a ruling on its safety by the European Chemical Agency.

Prevention Week underlines the extent to which we are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals, and the simple steps we could take to reduce our risk. So we can check the ingredients list before we buy our next deodorant, but it’s the EU that can promote more research, improved labelling and better regulation so that we do know what is in the products we buy and what impact they actually have on our health.

We do not know which EU regulations the Government will choose to keep if we leave the EU, and which we would continue to be bound by if we want to trade with the EU. While it was the UK’s Labour Government that put chemical regulation on the EU’s agenda back in 1998, we now seem less likely to show such international leadership and foresight. The fact that the UK Government does not support the precautionary approach and has said that glyphosate should be approved, seemingly without any conditions, is an ominous sign.

When we are still lacking in clear evidence, I hope that the UK will follow the EU’s example, and work with experts like Breast Cancer UK to consider what further research and guidance is needed to ensure that all of us have the information we need to make informed choices about the risks we face.

The UK used to be the dirty man of Europe – we cannot return to these bad old days. With our environment and our health, we need to focus on prevention to avoid so much damage and heartache.


Kerry McCarthy MP

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