REACH: the Largest Animal-Testing Programme in the World
In 2006, the European Union introduced a new law, known as Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), requiring chemical companies to provide information about the health and environmental hazards of almost every chemical in use in Europe. The law demands the results of animal tests, and if companies don't already have that, they are required to perform new ones. As a result, millions of animals are expected to face painful and lethal tests over the next seven years that otherwise never would have taken place. REACH is the largest animal-testing programme in the world, and it's happening right here in Europe.
The Plan and the Tests
REACH came into effect in 2007, and official reports show that by 2010, more than 200,000 animals had already been used in tests to meet its requirements. Those tests included acutely painful skin and eye tests and acute toxicity tests in which animals are given massive doses of chemicals, leading to terrible suffering and even death. Mice, rats, guinea pigs, fish and rabbits have all been used – and even worse is to come. By 2010, only a relatively small number of chemicals and a small amount of test data needed to be submitted for REACH. Over the next six years and beyond, data for far more chemicals will be needed – and tests which consume thousands of animals per chemical may be demanded for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these substances.
The tests can last for months or even the entire lifespan of the animals who are dosed with chemicals every day. In reproductive toxicity tests, pregnant animals are force-fed chemicals to see if the substances will cause abnormalities or death in their offspring. A single reproductive toxicity test for just one chemical can use more than 2,500 animals.
PETA and REACH
PETA and its international affiliates have been fighting to protect animals from the threat of REACH since before it even became law. Our lobbyists worked hard and successfully to have measures protecting animals introduced into the legislation. The law now states that the use of animals should be a "last resort" and contains enough flexibility to allow companies to avoid the use of animals in certain circumstances. Measures to prevent different companies from performing the same test on the same chemical will keep millions more animals from being killed in duplicative testing, and some of the worst tests cannot go ahead without an evaluation by the authorities first.
Since the REACH programme itself started in 2007, science and policy experts from PETA and our affiliates have been working tirelessly with chemical companies, scientists, EU officials and politicians to try to reduce the death toll of animals. In 2009, new advice preventing repetitive tests was issued by the agency in charge of REACH – a clarification that could save more than 4 million animals. PETA has also published articles in technical and trade media outlets and worked with the mainstream media to alert the public to the threat of REACH. We and our affiliates meet regularly with some of the world's largest chemical companies to promote the use of alternative methods instead of animal tests for REACH. PETA and our affiliates have also given money directly for the development and scientific assessment of non-animal methods that could be used to replace animal tests under REACH, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives.
Despite the work PETA and others have done to reduce the impact of REACH, it is clear that many animal tests that have been conducted could have been avoided. The REACH legislation directive about using animals as a "last resort" has so far been betrayed in practice, and PETA is determined to put that right.
PETA supports the principle of ensuring the chemicals we are exposed to every day are not harmful to our health or the environment. So long as REACH relies on animal tests, however, that goal will never be "reached". Enlightened scientists and regulators around the world recognise that in addition to being immoral, animal tests simply can't do the job. REACH means that Europe – once regarded as the world leader in animal protection – is, for now, wedded to archaic and cruel testing methods that are causing untold animal suffering and death. We welcome the steps that have been taken under REACH to use alternative methods and prevent pointless, duplicative tests from being carried out, but we will continue to work to ensure that every opportunity to avoid animal testing for REACH is taken up.
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