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We have highlighted the need for a transition to innovative, animal-free approaches for chemicals testing, in a presentation at the UK Chemicals Regulations 2023 conference in London.
Our UK Science Programme Manager, Dr Sam Saunders, gave the presentation at the conference, organised by Chemical Watch, on Thursday. Other speakers included representatives from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Chemical Industries Association, the Royal Society of Chemistry and several industry associations.
Dr Saunders illustrated the inefficiency, unreliability and irrelevance of animal-based toxicity test methods used to test chemicals under UK and EU regulations – many of which have never been evaluated by modern standards, and whose use can compromise human and environmental health.
Repeated acute oral toxicity tests in rats, she said, have just a 60% chance of resulting in the same hazard categorisation. Overall, animal testing correctly predicts toxicity in humans less than 70% of the time, and the absence of toxicity gives very little assurance of safety in humans.
Non-animal approaches can instead be more efficient, reliable and relevant and, where in use, have already shown themselves to be capable of outperforming animal tests. In skin sensitisation tests, the animal-free approach predicts human outcomes with up to 84% accuracy, whereas the most widely used animal test is just 58% accurate.
Almost one quarter (24%) of EU chemicals safety tests inflict moderate or severe suffering on the animals involved, all of whom are killed at the end if they don’t die during the test.
Dr Saunders said that it is crucial that policies and regulations accommodate rather than block scientific progress, which would involve updating the relevant laws to allow non-animal methods to be used fully and making sure that they stay up to date going forwards. This should be brought about under an overarching government commitment to animal-free chemicals toxicity testing.
Dr Saunders said: “Following Brexit, the UK has a unique opportunity to build a regulatory system that fully embraces the power of non-animal methods. For the sake of humans, the environment and animals in laboratories, Britain must build a system that uses non-animal approaches as the default way to generate information on substances.
“We were encouraged last month by the Home Secretary’s suggestion that the government wants to improve safety through the application of new non-animal science and technology. We want to see this brought about through bold and progressive policies, and hope that our politicians fully seize this opportunity.”
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