National Anti-vivisection Society

 

National Antivisection Society

EU chemicals testing: European Parliament vote

Sadly, some of the successes in the Environment Committee were short-lived, when REACH arrived in the Parliament.

Right up to this vote it was unclear whether it would go ahead, and if delayed it would certainly be postponed until next year. With insiders telling us it was slightly better than 50/50 that the vote would proceed, we decided to make one last push with our supporters to try and ensure as many of the gains at the Environment Committee as possible were secured. A mailshot with special campaign postcards, and email details was sent to almost 30,000 supporters with a very special action call – bombard your MEPs with these messages NOW. This is the first time that a mass lobbying campaign of such intensity over such a short period has been attempted. You responded magnificently.

Even if your cards arrived a day or two after the vote, don’t worry, there is still much to do on REACH, there will be second reading in the European Parliament next year, and cards arrived well before the Council of Ministers vote in December. And, there is no better time to make your feelings felt with a representative than when they are actually thinking about the subject.

But the European Parliament vote failed to reflect the sea change that the Environment Committee had indicated. Powerful industry lobbyists were able to roll back may of the gains. The twenty amendments supported by the Environment Committee were all rejected.

We issued a statement to the media saying that: “We are bitterly disappointed that the European Parliament has seen fit to reject 20 amendments put forward in the Environment Committee report to use alternatives to experiments on animals. Consequently, REACH remains locked into animal testing, which is like insisting people use typewriters instead of computers. Animal tests are inefficient, outdated, and inaccurate - it is time for change.”

The European Parliament also decided–

  • to allow some opt-outs of the mandatory data sharing requirement – we would have preferred to see no opt-out, but nevertheless, there is enough still intact to save millions of animals from pain and suffering
  • that substances produced in amounts of 1-10 tonnes, and 10-100 tonnes per annum, should not be brought under the registration and authorisation regulations in REACH. This amounts to approximately 20,000 of the 30,000 REACH chemicals. Positively this means that there will be no additional animal testing of these chemicals. In fact, we could have had non-animal tests AND stricter control on all chemicals.

Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas, who had steered through the amendments on animal testing, reported that REACH had been weakened – 90% of the chemicals covered by REACH are produced between 1 and 10 tonnes, and these are now to be excluded.

However, several of our key campaign demands survived the European Parliament vote, including–

  • mandatory sharing of animal test data;
  • increased funding for the development and evaluation of modern non-animal test methods
  • European Chemicals Agency committed to play a role in the advancement of non-animal testing strategies which, if effective, this could finally see the modernisation of test methods across Europe; part of the registration fee should be allocated to the development of non-animal methods, with an advisory committee set up within the Chemicals Agency to ensure avoidance of animal testing;
  • It was also agreed that testing proposals involving animals for chemicals produced in low tonnage bands should be submitted for evaluation by experts in the field of alternatives;
  • testing proposals involving animal tests should be open for comment by stakeholders, taken into account by relevant authorities, and that any decision should be done in consultation with experts in the fields of alternative test methods, in particular with ECVAM
  • The directive on testing of cosmetic products escaped unscathed – this means that the legislation prohibiting the animal testing of cosmetic ingredients in the EU after March 2009 remains in place, together with the phase-in ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics.
  • One Substance, One Registration (OSOR): This would have prevented duplication, but some opt-outs were given for this. We have always allied our campaign to the call for safer chemicals (animal tests do not mean safer chemicals), and several gains were made here
  • An incentive to substitute ‘substances of high concern’ with safer chemicals.
  • Duty of Care: Obligation on producers and importers to ensure safe use of their chemicals.
  • Mandatory substitution if safer alternatives are available; a review takes place after five years. A list of candidate chemicals, for which it is believed safer alternatives are available, will be produced and made available.
  • Registration: The number of substances requiring registration under REACH was significantly reduced. Registration of 20,000 low-volume chemicals will be determined by the availability of data on the risk that they present. A “risk-based registration” scheme, in place of the automatic registration – thus if there is no data available, nothing has to be provided.
  • Animal Testing: Procedural improvements were made, but no direct replacement of animal tests in testing requirements as we had hoped.

MEP Philip Whitehead Chair of Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection reported that conflicting lobbies from the chemical industry, consumer, environment and animal protection groups meant that compromises would be made on REACH, and therefore registration was made easier for substances in the low volume category. It was made “less burdensome” for the small manufacturers, although they will still need to do a Chemical Safety Assessment, but will also get greater confidentiality for the data they submit. Commercial concerns won out over disclosure of chemical safety assessment data – they will also get greater confidentiality for the data they submit. However, the European Chemicals Bureau will have oversight over exclusions. Mr Whitehead stated that the simplification of the process will also vastly reduce the number of animal experiments required for REACH. The principle of substitution of animal tests by alternatives was carried. He estimates that alternative methods, now under development, should replace use of 2 million animals.

MEP Neil Parish reported that the Conservatives in the European Parliament supported mandatory data sharing; REACH registration fees to be used to develop non-animal tests, and existing data to be published to prevent duplication of animal testing already carried out. However, they do not support the automatic replacement of animal tests with non-animal methods, believing the quality of the tests is not yet up to standard to secure human safety – a point we, of course, dispute.

MEP Jean Lambert for the Greens, said that after the European Parliament vote some aspects of REACH were strengthened, but a number of loopholes had left it fatally flawed, making it a watered-down directive designed to cut the costs for industry at the expense of human health and the environment. Approximately 20,000 chemicals (about which little is known) are now exempt from REACH and this is a serious risk to us all. Jean Lambert has urged campaigners to keep the pressure up on MEPs, whilst the process continues into 2006.

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