REACH: the Largest Animal-Testing Programme in the World

 

Mouse REACH chemical testing© Doctors Against Animal Experiments
In 2006, the European Union introduced a new law, known as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation, requiring chemical companies to provide information on the health effects and environmental hazards of almost every chemical used in Europe. The law demands the results from tests on animals, and if companies don’t already have these results, they are required to conduct new animal tests. PETA has estimated that as a result, more than a million animals had been used in painful and lethal experiments by 2016, and thousands more are expected to be used in the coming years. REACH is the largest animal-testing programme in the world, and it’s being carried out right here, right now, in Europe.

 

REACH Tests

REACH requires a variety of different tests on animals for all types of substances. Animals suffer in painful skin and eye tests and acute toxicity tests in which they are given massive doses of chemicals, causing them 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 there are still many more tests to come.

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, experimenters force-feed chemicals to pregnant animals in order to see whether the substances will cause their offspring to be born with abnormalities or even to die. Approximately 2,500 animals may be used in a single reproductive toxicity test for just one chemical.

PETA and REACH

PETA and its international affiliates have been campaigning to protect animals from the threat of REACH since before it even became law. Our lobbyists worked hard to have measures protecting animals included in the legislation. For example, the law states that the use of animals should be a “last resort” and contains enough flexibility to allow companies to avoid the use of animals under certain circumstances. Measures to prevent different companies from performing the same test on the same chemical have kept millions of animals from being killed in duplicative testing, and some of the worst tests cannot proceed 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 stop the animal death toll from rising. In 2009, following our efforts, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which is responsible for administering REACH, issued advice on preventing duplicative tests – a clarification that may have spared millions of animals’ lives.

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. The Consortium now has accredited stakeholder status with both the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM) and ECHA. EURL ECVAM plays a critical role in determining the scientific acceptance and regulatory use of non-animal testing methods within the EU as well as globally, and the Consortium will continue to work with it and influence its policy. As an ECHA-accredited stakeholder, the Consortium capitalises on its access to international regulators and meetings relating to REACH to encourage the replacement of animals wherever possible. Involvement in such discussions increases the Consortium’s ability to promote and fund reliable and relevant strategies for reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of animals in experiments.

PETA and other members of the Consortium have also published articles in technical and trade media outlets and continue to work 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. We’ve also provided funding for the development and scientific assessment of non-animal methods that could be used to replace animal tests under REACH, potentially sparing 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, which confirms that ECHA has failed in its mandate to use all tools at its disposal to minimise animal experiments, has enormous implications for preventing the suffering of millions of animals. She has issued clear direction for ECHA to request information from registrants to demonstrate compliance with the law when required and has instructed the agency to inform member states of all possible instances of non-compliance, not just proven violations.

What’s Next?

Despite the work PETA and others have done to reduce the impact of REACH on animals, it is clear that many animal tests that have been conducted could have been avoided. The requirement that animals be used only as a “last resort” has not been enforced 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 both the spirit and the content of REACH is achieved.

PETA supports the principle of ensuring that the chemicals we are exposed to every day are not harmful to our health or the environment. As long as we rely on animal tests, however, that goal will never be REACHed. Forward-thinking 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 death.

We welcome the steps that have been taken under REACH to use alternative methods and to 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 is taken.

Baby Guinea Pig