Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Saturday, October 27, 2001
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
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
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".
Go on to More
Return to 31 October 2001 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright