Animal welfare out of REACH? European experts refute NGO arguments for postponing chemical regulations
28 Oct 2022 --- The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is dismissing claims that postponing REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) revisions against hazardous chemicals is a necessary opportunity to improve animal welfare. The federation questions the motives behind recent NGO assertions that delays could significantly reduce animal testing in the EU.
Last week, after it was revealed the European Commission (EC) would delay the revisions by a year, the EEB accused the EC of folding under industry lobbying pressure amid the economic meltdown caused by the Ukraine war. It says the decision sentences Europeans to decades of further hazardous chemical exposure, which will cascade into additional economic pressure.
However, NGO Humane Society International (HSI) asserts that REACH “has become the largest mass animal testing project in European history” and that the postponement could be used to reduce the number of animals used for scientific experiments.
“With the initial timetable, it was clear that the EC was relying on outdated and unreliable animal tests to satisfy their ambitions to generate additional data for chemical impacts like endocrine disruption – with questionable benefits to human health and the environment while also significantly increasing the numbers of animals used for testing,” an HSI spokesperson tells PackagingInsights. “A fresh approach is needed.”
REACH’s impact on animal welfare
Despite an EU-wide ban on animal testing in 2013, many exemptions are made – some through REACH legislation – to reduce chemical hazards toward humans and the environment.
report, over 10.5 million animals were subjected to various forms of scientific testing in 2018, many of them bred and killed to determine toxicity levels for industrial chemicals and human medicinal products.According to the EC’s latest
A new round of statistics on animal testing will be released next year, but the EEB’s head of chemicals policy, Tatiana Santos, tells us the HSI’s assertion “is misleading on many levels.”
“To start with, REACH is absolutely not the largest mass animal-testing program in European history. In fact, REACH requires less than 3% of all the animal testing in Europe.”
“We wonder why animal welfare organizations focus so much on REACH and not that much on research that sacrifices 69% of laboratory animals in Europe. Even looking at medical products for humans, which requires 14% of all sacrifices,” she continues.
“REACH is, in fact, the largest mass protection program in European history, being the best tool Europe has to protect people’s health, wildlife and the environment from the devastating chemical pollution we are currently exposed to.”
Swedish organization ChemSec, which advocates for stricter regulatory controls on hazardous chemicals, also rejects the HSI’s claim that REACH is a mass animal testing program.
Dr. Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemicals and business advisor for ChemSec, tells us he disagrees with HSI’s statements and says that the 2-3% of animal tests conducted through REACH legislation is negligible given the environmental damage caused by unregulated toxic chemicals.
“Compared to the current situation where entire species are getting extinct as a consequence of pollution, it is a minor cost in my view,” he says. “Of course, we need to work for better testing methods that can give better predictions of hazard properties while reducing the need for animal tests. In my view, this is also happening. We are on a route to minimize animal tests, although it will take time to do this while ensuring protection.”
The REACH revisions would have placed blanket bans over thousands of hazardous chemicals like PFAS, Bisphenol and PVC. According to the European Chemical Industry Council, such chemicals are present in around 74% of consumer and professional products, including packaging and cosmetics.
However, many of these pledges were deleted in the postponed version of the revision in favor of the chemical industry’s economic strength, which turns over around €768 billion (US$755 billion) per year in the EU.
Weighing the money
German chemical industry corporation VCI told us the ongoing energy crisis requires that the EC pause legislative changes and focus on empowering industrial competitiveness.
However, the EEB says it is now “game over” for REACH revisions and that the poisonous impacts of chemical pollution will only backfire on the European economy in the long run.
Kleimark says ChemSec agrees with the EEB that the postponement is deeply worrying – “although it is still not clear what this all will mean in practice.”
“The situation to better tackle hazardous chemicals is urgent, we are overstepping the planetary boundaries, and the EC needs to hold on to the promises in the Chemicals Strategy,” he says.
“Much of the groundwork done over the last two years is close to being finalized, but more importantly, we cannot see that even industry would benefit from this delay. Many of the proposed changes are meant to facilitate for companies and to future proof the EU industry.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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