Brussels, 22 Apr 2004
The beginning of World Week for Laboratory Animals was marked on 20 April by renewed attempts by the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) to put pressure on both the European Commission and the European chemicals industry to reduce the number of experiments carried out on animals.
Demonstrations outside the headquarters of the Chemicals Industry Association (CEFIC) in Brussels, Belgium, took place against the background of ongoing discussions on proposed new chemicals regulations. Chemicals testing has been a contentious issue since the European Commission unveiled proposals for the new REACH (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) strategy in October 2003.
The Commission gives the following justifications for an overhaul of chemicals testing: 'The current legislative framework for chemicals is inadequate. It has not produced sufficient information about the effects of chemicals on human health and the environment, and where risks are identified, it is slow to assess them and introduce risk management measures. These shortcomings have potentially put human health and the environment at risk. The current system has also hampered research and innovation, causing the EU chemicals industry to lag behind its counterparts in the US and Japan in this regard.'
While the ECEAE supports the need for new regulations, it is concerned that new testing obligations will result in a higher number of animal experiments.
'If REACH aims to protect humans and the environment from toxic chemicals, poisoning animals to death is not the way to achieve this,' said Emily McIvor, the EU political coordinator at the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV), which chairs the ECEAE.
The ECEAE views the validation of alternative testing methods a priority, and called on the chemicals industry to facilitate this process on 20 April. 'At the very least, chemical companies should allow their chemicals and existing test data to be used for validation studies conducted by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) so that new, non-animal tests can be approved more quickly,' said Ms McIvor. 'They must also allow non-animal tests they've developed for 'in house' use to be used by regulators, and most urgently, these multinational companies should give substantial funds instead of just paying lip service to the further development of new non-animal tests so that animal toxicity testing can be replaced by the REACH deadline.'
The coalition cites evidence that non-animal tests are more reliable and efficient than traditional testing methods to support its plea to the Commission and chemicals industry. A March report, compiled for the ECEAE and the BUAV by Dr Gill Langley, illustrates how animal tests can be replaced with alternatives. For each test area, the animal test and its non-animal equivalent are described. Scientific failings of the established method are detailed, alongside action needed to bring new tests into use.
The alternative methods combine in vitro and computational procedures to form 'stepwise' strategies. A stepwise strategy involves starting with quick and simple screening methods and then moving on to tests specific to toxic mechanisms, and then to more sophisticated in vitro assays. For some substances, conclusive results can be obtained early on in the process, making all steps unnecessary for all chemicals.
UK MEP Caroline Lucas welcomed the report for demonstrating 'how misleading animal tests have been to past chemicals regulation, how ineffective animal testing is as a monitor of environmental or human safety and how urgently we need to switch to a more modern, reliable, non-animal approach.'
In a recent response to concerns about the implications of REACH on animal testing, the European Commission reaffirmed its support for a more intense development of alternative test methods. In the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) for research, the Commission therefore funded more than 43 research projects for in vitro methods with approximately 65 million euro. In FP6, researchers are being requested 'more than ever' to submit suitable projects, according to the Commission. 'This should eventually lead to internationally validated alternative test methods providing results which are unanimously acceptable to regulators,' states the Commission.
The Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) is also playing a lead role within an OECD initiative for the validation of computer methods, and the Commission has started the revision of Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of laboratory animals.
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To see the BUAV/ECEAE report, please visit: