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Prior to 1981, chemicals did not have to be strictly safety tested before being put onto the market. The European Commission was rightly concerned over the possible risks posed by chemicals not stringently tested, so it created REACH to systematically assess the safety of nearly 30,000 chemicals that had already been placed on the market.
The European Commission backed plans to poison millions of animals to test these chemicals. Their initial proposals failed to mention anything about alternatives to animal testing or the sharing of data. In response, the ECEAE launched a campaign to stop this mass suffering, proposing instead humane, reliable and biologically relevant non-animal testing methods.
What followed was five years of some of the most intense lobbying and campaigning the ECEAE has ever undertaken. In 2001, the ECEAE produced a ground-breaking 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.
The ECEAE was successful in campaigning for some life-saving amendments to the REACH legislation. These include the promotion of alternative methods, data-sharing and scrutiny of test proposals. As a result of these changes it is widely considered that millions of animals have been saved from suffering and death in a laboratory.
It’s a tragedy that millions of animals will still die needlessly in outdated and inhumane tests, but it could have been so much worse.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.