Chemicals legislation in the European Union
Hundreds of thousands of animals worldwide are used every year in an attempt to test the safety of chemicals. These experiments are also called toxicity tests, which traditionally involve guinea pigs, rabbits, fish, birds, rats and mice.
In the European Union a piece of legislation called REACH entered into force in 2007. REACH stands for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals. Its purpose is to establish whether all existing and new chemicals are safe for humans and the environment, and to control the use of those judged to present a risk. Sadly, animal testing is being used to establish the safety of these chemicals.
Cruelty Free International, acting on behalf of the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), was involved in the legislative process for REACH in the early 2000s. We were able to make sure that the regulation stated that companies must share their testing data, avoiding duplication of animal tests, that animal testing should only ever be a 'last resort' and that non-animal methods should be promoted. At the time, official estimates had suggested that up to 13 million animals would be poisoned and killed during the process of assessing and registering chemicals, but we estimate that this figure is around 6 million. We believe therefore without our input the numbers would have been much higher.
Chemical companies had until 2018 to register their substances with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Shockingly, we have estimated that over 2.6 million animals have been used and killed so far in this process. Unfortunately, it is not over, and ECHA continues to demand animal tests for substances as they review their safety and use.
What we do
Cruelty Free International’s team is constantly challenging requirements by the regulators for new animal tests and pushes for greater efforts to promote the use of non-animal methods. We are expert stakeholders, representing animals at the European Commission, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
We support companies appealing decisions to test on animals at the Agency's Board of Appeal if we believe there has been an error of law or procedure. We have already been involved in several successful cases that have prevented the deaths of thousands of animals, as well as helping to improve the decision-making of the Agency.
We set up a new organisation called Cruelty Free Europe in 2019 to represent the voice of animals in Europe. We now lead this organisation, made up of animal protection groups across Europe. REACH is a big priority for Cruelty Free Europe, both implementation of the current laws and the ongoing review.
- In 2016, we pushed the European Commission to update REACH to delete the rabbit skin and eye irritation (Draize) tests (saving 18,000 rabbits), to encourage the avoidance of the cruel dermal acute toxicity test (saving 66,000 rats) and the use of non-animal methods for skin allergy testing (potentially saving 200,000 mice).
- Our work commenting on proposals to test on animals, which is an opportunity given in the REACH legislation, has, to date, helped to save over 80,000 animals. Our experts continue to provide scientific arguments to encourage both the Agency and the companies to halt plans to conduct animal tests required under REACH.
- Since the start of REACH, we have encouraged ECHA to promote non animal methods, resulting in the production of guidance for industry and monitoring of the uptake of non-animal methods.
What you can do
For up-to-date information on our work to end animal tests for chemicals, check-out the Cruelty Free Europe website. As the European Commission begins the process of reviewing REACH and related laws, we’re concerned that millions more animals could be at risk. If you are a national of an EU member state, you can help by signing and sharing our European Citizens’ Initiative calling for chemicals’ regulation to be transformed so that we can ensure human health and the environment are protected by managing chemicals without the addition of new animal testing requirements.