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 effects 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, hundreds of thousands of animals are being used in painful and lethal tests with millions more expected to be used in the coming years. REACH is the largest animal-testing programme in the world, and it’s happening right here, right now in Europe.
The Plan and the Tests
REACH came into effect in 2007, and official reports show that by 2013, more than 800,000 animals had already been used in tests to meet its requirements. Those tests included painful skin and eye tests and acute toxicity tests in which animals were given massive doses of chemicals, leading to terrible suffering and death even though reliable non-animal methods exist for many of these tests. 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 four years and beyond, data for around 25,000 more chemicals will be needed – and tests which consume thousands of animals per chemical may be demanded for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these substances.
These 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 babies. A single reproductive toxicity test for just one chemical can use approximately 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 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 should 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 began, science and policy experts from PETA and our international affiliates have been working with chemical companies, scientists, EU officials and politicians to try to reduce the animal death toll. In 2009, following our efforts, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the agency in charge of REACH, issued advice on preventing repetitive tests – a clarification that could save as many as 4 million animals.
In 2012, the PETA International Science Consortium, Ltd. (PISC), was established to coordinate the scientific and regulatory expertise of its members, including PETA and its affiliates. PISC now has accredited stakeholder status with both the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) and ECHA. EURL ECVAM has a critical role in determining the scientific acceptance and regulatory use of non-animal testing methods within the EU as well as globally. PISC will continue to work with and influence the policy of EURL ECVAM. As an ECHA-accredited stakeholder, PISC is granted access to international regulators and meetings relating to REACH to encourage the replacement of animals wherever possible. Access to meetings such as these increases PISC’s ability to promote and fund reliable and relevant strategies to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the use of animals in experiments.
PETA and other members of PISC have 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 and 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.
In 2012, PETA submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman against ECHA accusing the agency of maladministration for failing to ensure that animal testing is conducted as a “last resort”, as required by law. Her decision, rendered at the end of 2014, has enormous implications for preventing the suffering of millions of animals and confirms that ECHA has failed in its mandate to use all tools at its disposal to minimise animal experiments. The Ombudsman has issued clear direction for ECHA to request information from registrants to demonstrate compliance with the law when required and instructs ECHA to inform member states of all possible instances of non-compliance, not just proven violations.
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. Science and policy experts from PETA and our international affiliates will continue to lobby and work with officials in Europe to ensure that the concerns outlined by the Ombudsman are addressed and that compliance with the spirit and content of REACH is assured from this point forward.
PETA supports the principle of ensuring that 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 unethical, 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 deaths.
We welcome the steps that have been taken under REACH to use alternative methods and prevent pointless, duplicative tests from being carried out, but it is critical that we make absolutely sure that every opportunity to avoid animal testing for REACH be taken.