London – In response to a complaint by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the European Ombudsman has launched an inquiry into the actions of the European Union (EU) agency responsible for the administration of the REACH chemical-testing program, which is expected to consume millions of animals in toxicity tests. PETA's complaint, submitted in July 2012, alleges that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is not properly investigating cases in which animal testing could be avoided under the rules of REACH. PETA maintains that evidence derived from public documents and correspondence with the agency demonstrates that ECHA is not taking the necessary steps to ensure fulfilment of REACH's legal requirement that animal testing be conducted only as a "last resort."
The REACH Regulation (1907/2006/EU) makes clear in recitals, articles and annexes that animal tests must be avoided whenever possible, but in 2011 the agency's report "The Use of Alternatives to Testing on Animals for the REACH Regulation" showed that tens of thousands of animals were used in tests that could have been avoided under REACH's own rules. These tests included 135 skin-irritation studies conducted after a non-animal replacement had been validated and approved for use under REACH and 107 studies conducted without prior submission and approval of a testing proposal.
In response to the report, PETA contacted ECHA and the European Commission to seek assurances that all such possible violations of the requirements were being investigated by the agency and/or reported to relevant national authorities. PETA's enquiries have revealed that ECHA is not taking action to investigate all the 107 tests on animals conducted without test proposals, does not directly inform member state authorities of all possible violations of last-resort requirements and does not assess information dossiers submitted by chemical companies to evaluate whether animal tests undertaken for REACH could have been avoided.
In its complaint, PETA argued that in failing to properly evaluate whether animal tests had been conducted as a last resort in accordance with REACH's requirements, ECHA was guilty of maladministration. It is this complaint which the Ombudsman took up in December.
"PETA alleges that animals may have been poisoned and killed in tests that should never have taken place," says PETA UK Science Adviser Dr Gilly Stoddart. "We are relieved that the Ombudsman has launched an inquiry, as the lives of millions of animals are at stake. We trust that the Ombudsman will share our view and compel the agency to fulfil its obligations."
Copies of PETA's complaint and relevant correspondence are available on request.