Millions of animals to die in new EU chemical tests - Newspaper Edition - Times Online
Date: October 9, 2006
The Sunday Times
October 08, 2006
Millions of animals to die
in new EU chemical tests
Nicola Smith Brussels
TENS of millions of rabbits, mice and guinea pigs are facing a painful death in laboratory experiments to be imposed next April because of new European Union rules on chemical testing.
The new laws will set compulsory tests for about 30,000 chemicals that have been on the market since before 1981, when there were no stringent health and safety requirements.
Many of the chemicals are used in household items, from shampoo to children’s toys, and EU policymakers have pushed for the new standards, arguing that too little is known about the dangers for human health and the environment.
Products will have to stop using unsafe chemicals or be banned, but the tests cannot be carried out without the “collateral damage” to millions of animals. Campaigners protest that the tests are too indiscriminate and that not enough has been done to find humane alternatives.
Current estimates of the number of animals to be affected range from the 16m predicted by the chemicals industry to 45m over 15 years calculated by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.
The toxicological experiments will include chemicals dropped into rabbits’ eyes, irritants tested on guinea pigs’ skin and cancerous tumours grown on mice. The health risks of chemical exposure during pregnancy will also be assessed on rabbits, causing their babies to be stillborn.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was “horrified” at the prospect of so many animal experiments. A spokesman said that despite some positive changes to the draft law, too many animal tests would still be carried out unnecessarily.
Alistair Currie, campaigns director of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “It is an animal welfare crisis. All of these tests could be replaced with non-animal tests.”
The new law, known as Reach (the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), is the largest piece of legislation ever adopted by the EU and one of its most contentious. It has pitted the chemicals industry against the environmental lobby, the EU against America and, unusually, animal rights lobbyists against conservationists.
In a U-turn last week David Cameron, the Conservative leader, pledged that his 26 MEPs would back the legislation, boosting hopes that it will be finalised by the end of the year.
The European parliament’s environment committee faces a crucial vote on the law in Brussels on Tuesday. Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP, said he would table a series of amendments to improve its animal welfare provisions but conceded that millions of creatures would still be sacrificed.
“We can do a lot more to reduce the need for tests and to speed up the introduction of alternative testing methods,” he said. “But let’s not pretend there will be no animal testing.”
The European commission said it could reduce the number of animal tests by 50% if approval is given to alternatives such as computer modelling.