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31 October 2001 Issue
50 Million Animals in Mass Test Plan

Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Saturday, October 27, 2001
The Guardianhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,581783,00.html 

A European commission plan to test thousands of chemicals for toxicity will initiate the biggest animal testing programme Europe has ever seen and require the death of at least 50m animals, official estimates seen by the Guardian show. The plan - which involves testing a minimum of 30,0000 chemicals found in everyday products to make sure they are safe for human health and the environment - has been condemned by animal rights groups. It has also been criticised by environmentalists who think it doesn't go far enough and the chemical industry itself.

The sheer scale of the programme, which is being considered by the European parliament, is only now beginning to emerge.

"This would be the biggest ever mass animal poisoning programme in Europe's history," said Wendy Higgins, campaigns director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV). "In all likelihood the majority of the testing will go to the UK and these tests are about as cruel as you can get and will involve a horrific amount of suffering for a huge amount of animals."

A report commissioned by the environment department earlier this year and seen by the Guardian estimates that up to 50.2m animals would be required, including 4.4m fish.

The BUAV goes even further. It says a bare minimum of 63.6m animals would be required, claiming that at least 2,123 animals are needed to test every chemical.

The tests would involve monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, dogs, rats, hamsters, birds and fish and require scientists to administer bigger and bigger doses of the suspect chemicals in order to observe the side-effects. Force-feeding in this way can cause bleeding from the eyes and nose, convulsions, vomiting and ultimately a slow death.

The rationale behind the EU programme is to protect the public. At least 30,000 chemicals are routinely released untested into the environment in everyday products such as plastic and car upholstery.

Many of the 30,000 substances are suspected of causing birth defects, allergies and learning problems. There are also fears that they may be doing untold damage to the environment and wildlife.

Such a large programme would provide a much-needed boost to Britain's contract animal testing industry, which is by far the biggest in Europe, and provide years and possibly even decades of work for the likes of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Quintiles and Covance.

But the BUAV, which admits there is a genuine need to test the chemicals, rejects the use of animals and has drawn up an alternative non-animal testing programme.

"Politicians can't keep using the line that animals need to suffer because there are no alternatives, because there are," said Ms Higgins. "If you put the necessary funding into alternative methods now, a non-animal strategy would be possible in five years' time."

The BUAV has commissioned research to show that in vitro and other alternatives exist but it admits that some of these testing methods have yet to be scientifically validated.

The European commission argues there is no other choice.

"Our main consideration is to protect the environment and human health," spokesman Per Haugaard said. "It's a trade-off. Do you want safe chemicals or not?"

"To the extent that alternative methods are available and reliable they will be used. We are sensitive to and aware of these arguments."

A spokesman for the UK-based Research Defence Society warned last night that animal rights groups were trying to kill off the testing strategy at an early stage but admitted the idea of using animals to test chemicals which were already in use might be "a bit wrong-headed and unnecessary".

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