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REACH is a new European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). Its title stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. The aim of REACH is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the risky nature of chemical substances.
REACH seeks to assess the safety of chemicals for human health and the environment, so tests need to be carried out to see what impact they have. The experiments used to assess the safety of chemicals are called toxicity tests, which traditionally involve the poisoning of guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, fish, rats and mice, although many non-animal alternatives now exist.
Between 13 and 54 million animals could be used in the EU under REACH to test the safety of an estimated 30,000 or more chemicals between 2009 and 2018.
The number of animals used in cruel poisoning tests could have been much higher than the 13 million currently estimated by the European Commission - Their original proposals would have seen the poisoning of 45 million animals under REACH.
But after five years of some of the most intense lobbying and campaigning the ECEAE has ever undertaken, we were successful in securing life-saving amendments to the legislation. As a result, millions of animals were saved from suffering and death for REACH.
Unfortunately, more recent estimates of the numbers of chemicals needing to be tested have meant that the number of animals could be much higher than previously thought, despite these important amendments. The ECEAE is therefore committed to following through our campaign, working hard to ensure the number of animal tests carried out under REACH is minimised. You can read how we're achieving this here.
Toxicity tests involve force-feeding animals high doses of chemicals – many become seriously ill.. The animals are always killed as part of the test if they do not die as a result of it. Tests may involve two-generation studies where pregnant animals are poisoned so the effects of the chemical can be seen in the babies.
The first proposed test under REACH was for an industrial lubricant, and involved force-feeding pregnant rats high doses of chemicals and killing them just before they are due to give birth.
The ECEAE believes animals do not need to be used for chemicals testing, and published a report entitled ‘The Way Forward: A Non-Animal Testing Strategy for Chemicals’, which demonstrated how chemicals could be safely tested without having to use animals.
Ways to avoid animal tests include using humane alternatives, looking at human safety data and avoiding duplication of animal testing by sharing data on chemical tests that have already been carried out.
Many of the thousands of chemicals to be evaluated under REACH have already been privately animal-tested years ago by the companies that manufacture them. Thanks to the ECEAE's campaign, data-sharing is now a central feature of the legislation and there are penalties for companies that don’t comply.
REACH legislation states that some of the test proposals that are submitted to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) must be open to public scrutiny for 45 days. This gives ECEAE scientists a window of opportunity to provide information from other sources which might prevent the test happening, and save animals from awful suffering and death. We've already been able to suggest alternatives to the first animal testing proposals - we will have commented on all 21 proposals by the end of 2010 - and will be scrutinising further proposals as they are released.
Thanks to five years of intensive ECEAE lobbying, the use of alternatives has been placed centrally in the legislation. Article 1 specifically states that one of the aims of REACH is the ‘promotion of alternative methods of assessment of hazards of substances.’
This means that the chemical companies must use alternatives to animal tests where they are available, and puts an impetus on the European Union to develop and validate new alternatives. The ECEAE will be paying close attention to ensure that alternatives to cruel animal poisoning tests are used whenever possible. A huge shift in culture is still needed.
REACH legislation contains a concession that the Cosmetics Directive, which bans animal tests for cosmetics, takes precedence over REACH for cosmetic ingredients.
On this basis, we argue that this means that if a substance was animal-tested for any reason under REACH from March 2009 (when the Cosmetics Directive came into force), it could not subsequently be used in a cosmetic. However, we have a real battle on our hands to make sure that the legislation is applied properly.
There are in addition currently unresolved issues about particular types of testing that could be permitted even for cosmetics (e.g. environmental testing or worker safety), on which the ECEAE is seeking clarification.