REACH was created in 2001 by the European Commission to assess the safety of nearly 30,000 chemicals, for which existing data was considered outdated. The BUAV agreed with the premise of REACH — we all want protection from dangerous chemicals. However, we strongly disagreed with the ways in which the chemicals would be tested - using animals.
Initial estimates of the number of animals to be used under the REACH testing regime were staggering - between 38 and 45 million. And the REACH proposals didn't mention anything about humane, non-animal test methods.
The European Commission backed plans to poison to death millions of animals, with an estimated 20% of the testing likely to be in the UK as it had the largest contract testing industry in Europe.
As soon as the BUAV discovered the Commission's plans, we launched our 'Harmful If Swallowed' campaign to stop the mass suffering. The BUAV was the only UK anti-vivisection organisation campaigning and lobbying in Europe. We knew that for the EU's chemicals testing policy to have real credibility, the testing methods used must be the most reliable, biologically relevant, repeatable and humane. That meant non-animal testing.
What followed was five years of some of the most intense lobbying and campaigning the BUAV has ever undertaken. We:
In 2001, the BUAV contributed to a groundbreaking report entitled ‘The Way Forward: a non-animal testing strategy for toxicity testing’ which started a major debate in Europe about the future of humane testing methods.
On 13 December 2006 the European Parliament cast its final vote on the amended REACH proposal and on 1st June 2007 REACH came into effect.
REACH now spells out the way in which companies will be forced to prove that their chemicals are safe for humans and the environment. Each chemical that a company wishes to put onto the European market must go through a series of tests. A European Chemicals Agency has been established in Helsinki, Finland, to oversee the entire process.
Mandatory data sharing
A BUAV-backed amendment on ‘mandatory data sharing’ saved a potential 37 million animals from suffering and death in laboratories. Many of the 30,000 chemicals to be evaluated under REACH had been privately animal-tested years ago by the companies that manufacture them. Companies invested a large amount of time and resources to animal test their own chemicals for their own reasons—libraries of animal-test data were already in their hands, but none wanted to share it with their competitors.
Our mandatory data-sharing amendments now forces companies to pool their collective animal-testing data on a particular chemical, which will ensure that safety testing is only carried out only once.
Data sharing is now a central feature of the legislation and there are penalties for companies that don’t comply.
Scrutiny of test proposals
Another amendment the BUAV lobbied hard for was to give animal protection groups the chance to scrutinise all those animal testing proposals which are submitted to the European Chemicals Agency. We have now been given 45 days to review certain tests to see if there is existing data or another method that could be used. Our scientific experts go over each proposal with a fine-tooth comb looking for ways to eliminate animal use.
Humane alternatives a top European priority
Due to intensive lobbying, the development and use of alternatives has been placed centrally in the REACH legislation. Article 1 now states specifically that one of the aims of REACH is the ‘promotion of alternative methods for assessment of hazards of substances’. It also states that the development of alternatives should be prioritised in future European Union research. Other areas where non-animal test methods will be promoted include:
Article 13. Information should be generated wherever possible by alternatives and that methods will be ‘regularly’ reviewed and improved with a view to reducing animal experimentation.
Article 116 (2a). The new European Chemicals Agency will have to submit a report to the Commission every three years on the status of implementation and use of non-animal alternative tests.
Article 116 (3). The Commission will have to publish a report on the amount and distribution of funding made available by the Commission for developing and evaluating alternatives every five years.
It’s a tragedy that millions of animals will die needlessly in outdated and inhumane tests but it could have been so much worse. REACH has taken animal use in chemicals testing from political no-man’s land into the front line. We didn’t win every battle but we’ve made vital advances: meeting the challenge of ending animal testing is now at the heart of this legislation and will influence EU policy for years to come.