How the transition to non-animal science will be a win-win-win for science, society and animals

21 Apr 2023
The organisers of the recently closed European Citizens Initiative (ECI) “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics - Commit to a Europe without Animal Testing”, which has secured over 1.2 million validated signatures in one year, informed the Intergroup on Animal Welfare that moving away from animals in science is not only an expression of European values but is also at the core of European interests.

Chaired by MEP Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA, LU), the first part of the session discussed how the European Commission could take action to respond to the ECI’s proposals. In addition, as the European Parliament is currently analysing the European Commission's proposal for the revision of the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation, the second part of the meeting looked at the opportunities in this revision to avoid more animal testing.

Dr Julia Baines, Science Policy Manager, PETA, highlighted the need to protect and strengthen the EU’s cosmetics animal testing ban, especially as a series of regulatory decisions taken by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), with the support of the European Commission, are completely undermining the ban. She recommended that legislative changes should be made to allow for consistency in establishing the safety of cosmetics ingredients across EU regulatory frameworks. Dr Baines also proposed strengthening and broadening the ban on cosmetics testing to include worker safety and environmental toxicity assessment.

Concerns about a significant increase of millions of animals under the current proposals of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) were raised by Dr Donna Macmillan, Senior Strategist, Regulatory Science, Humane Society International. She also highlighted the lack of commitment to non-animal methods and the lack of concrete steps to modernise EU legislation under the CSS. Dr Macmillan then discussed how the EU's chemicals legislation can be transformed to better protect animals, people and the environment. In particular, she recommended that concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that new chemical testing requirements are met through fit-for-purpose non-animal approaches. She also stressed the need to put an end to the default reliance on inaccurate tests on animals.

Dr Luísa Bastos, Animals in Science Programme Leader, Eurogroup for Animals highlighted the harm caused to society and animals by animal experimentation. She also shared researchers’ concerns that the use of new research models could make it more difficult for them to publish their research, and threaten their access to funding. Dr Bastos then presented six recommendations for an EU roadmap to transition to non-animal science. Dr Bastos concluded her presentation by emphasising how the European Parliament can help researchers to deliver better and more humane science by reiterating its support for this EU roadmap.

MEP Isabella Adinolfi (EPP, IT) asked whether EU funding and instruments  Like Budgetary pilot projects could be specifically targeted at training in non-animal methods. Dr Bastos responded that several initiatives already exist at EU level, such as the European Education Area, but further efforts would greatly help researchers, students, and educators to move towards non-animal science. Tilly Metz added that more funding for non-animal approaches is also needed under Horizon Europe.

The question of what an ambitious timeline could look like for the phasing out of animals in all areas mentioned was raised by MEP Niels Fuglsang (S&D, DK). Dr Grange, Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, Cruelty Free International, and Dr Bastos emphasised that the current focus is mainly on accelerating the replacement of animals in concrete areas, and identifying milestones for rapid progress. Importantly, Tilly Metz added that the transition to non-animal science must become a political priority, and encouraged more members of the Intergroup to accelerate the transition.

In response to a question from Marketa Krejci, an assistant to Martin Hojsík (RE, SK), on the provision of reliable data for endocrine disruptors using non-animal methods without compromising safety, Dr Macmillan explained that combining different non-animal approaches could provide robust and equally or even more reliable information than animal testing. Dr Grange and Tilly Metz noted that there is a significant lack of scrutiny of the information provided by animal tests compared to non-animal methods.

MEP Petras Auštrevičius (Renew, LT) asked where we stand with the ECI at a global level. All guest speakers agreed that the EU has all the ingredients to be a world leader in advancing animal-free innovation and science, but that it will fall behind unless concrete action is taken. Dr Baines added that the EU can lead the way by making just a few small changes to EU legislation to close the current loopholes.

An important point was made by MEP Francisco Guerreiro (Greens/EFA, PT) about analysing the economic impact of transitioning to non-animal testing. Dr Bastos responded that such an analysis would be very helpful in taking appropriate steps.

In the second part of the session, Dr Grange highlighted how to achieve better regulation with less animal testing, using the revision of the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation  as an example. In particular, she emphasised the opportunities offered by this revision to ensure alignment with the EU goal of fully replacing animal testing. She concluded that the European Commission must make timely and appropriate decisions to amend CLP, as it cannot lag behind the state of the art.

In response to a question from MEP Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL, NL), Dr Grange explained the importance of CLP evolving alongside other chemicals regulations, such as REACH, to allow for the harmonised integration of non-animal approaches to assessing the safety of chemicals and products in the EU.

Tilly Metz concluded the meeting by challenging the European Commission to more transparently address limitations associated with animal use so that we can have a truly informed debate, and so that we can all see exactly how urgent this transition has become. She also announced that the European Parliament hearing on the ECI is currently scheduled for the 25th of May (although yet to be confirmed).

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