The beginning of REACH
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 an estimated 30,000 chemicals that had already been placed on the market.
Poisoned to death
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.
Half a decade of campaigning
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. 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. Many of the thousands of chemicals to be evaluated under REACH have already been animal-tested years ago by the companies that manufacture them. Thanks to the ECEAE's campaign, data-sharing became a central feature of the legislation. Another major achievement of the ECEAE’s campaign was 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.
From 2010 on the ECEAE has recruited toxicology experts to help provide scientific evidence that the tests should not be done. The analysis of all this work revealed that our comments were successful in 50 testing proposals, saving an estimated minimum of 35,000 animals from cruel and unnecessary suffering. Our experts were able to show in these cases that the proposed tests weren’t legally required or scientifically necessary. In some cases we found that data for the chemical already existed. These were tests in which rats are doses into the stomach every day for 90 days (repeated dose toxicity), in which the substances are tested on pregnant rats to study the effect on unborn babies (developmental toxicity), and two generations tests in which the chemicals are administered to pregnant rats, their pups and the pups of the next generation. Experiments on 5,000 animals could be prevented by supporting appeal cases. Some companies objected to the ECHA's requirement to conduct certain animal tests. We helped the companies and were successful in at least 4 cases. Years of interventions by the ECEAE have resulted in the EU's removal of the Draize skin and eye irritation test from REACH in May 2016. In this cruel test, the substance is rubbed into rabbits’ eyes or on their shaved skin. This test was included in REACH, although since 2009, animal-free test methods have been approved by the EU. The successful removal of the Draize test from REACH will save an about 18,000 rabbits from suffering and death. In total, the work of the ECEAE and our members has helped to save an estimated 60,000 animals from cruel chemical tests.