Tuesday, 01 August 2023 12:48

Animal testing in Europe: First far more animal testing than planned Featured

Drafts updating the EU Chemicals Regulation indicate that the number of animal tests for safety assessment will rise sharply in the coming years. A new study confirms this and shows that the originally expected number of four million animals has already been exceeded.

The European Union wants to make chemicals safer by having the 350,000 substances already officially registered worldwide subsequently tested for any potential health hazards. In most cases, chemicals in Europe are tested on animals on the basis of the REACH regulation.

At the beginning of the consultations, the European Commission assumed that this would cost the lives of about four million animals. However, a recently published study conducted by Prof. Thomas Hartung and colleagues1 shows that this number is much higher - and that it will increase. The study authors found that 4.2 million animals die for testing in order to meet the REACH requirement for the three systemic endpoints of repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and developmental toxicity alone. Approximately 2.9 million animals have been used for this purpose through December 2022. Additional testing with at least 1.3 million more animals is planned. In addition, it is estimated that the current revision of the REACH annex will add another 3.6 to 7 million animals.

Although some test guidelines are to be deleted, such as those for skin and eye irritation or skin sensitization, at the same time additional tests are to be added, for example to identify endocrine disruptors, substances that affect the immune system and those that damage the development.

A workshop held by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) at the end of May in early June revealed that the chemicals authority only wants to integrate new animal-free methods into its program "if it offers clear added value to its overall assessment." This affects, e.g., an animal-free testing strategy developed by researchers together with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). So far, it has not been taken into account in the REACH amendment. As a consequence, tests on animals are now planned to assess the development of the nervous system, although this would also be possible without animal testing.

In contrast, the announced development of a roadmap with legislative and non-legislative measures to further reduce animal testing and its implementation2 may still take time. By then, countless animal experiments will have been conducted. With regard to the promotion of new training initiatives for young scientists, coordination is offered to the Member States and national authorities. Whether the announced adequate funding to develop alternative approaches will accelerate the end of animal testing remains to be seen.

1 https://www.altex.org/index.php/altex/article/view/2665/2550
2 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/e%20n/ip_23_3993