London - In a landmark decision with the potential to save millions of animals from suffering and death in laboratory experiments, the European Ombudsman has determined that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is not fully applying its authority to minimize animal experiments, as required by law, and should begin to do so.
This judgment comes two years after PETA filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman alleging that ECHA does not correctly apply the provisions of the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation (REACH) concerning animal testing requirements and thereby fails to fulfill its mandated responsibilities.
"Today's ruling has enormous implications for preventing the suffering of millions of animals", says PETA Head of Science Dr Gilly Stoddart. "REACH is unprecedented in its impact on animals. ECHA will now be compelled to fulfill its obligation to ensure that animal use under REACH is truly minimized."
The REACH Regulation is clear that animal tests must be avoided whenever possible. However, ECHA's 2011 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. These tests included 135 skin-irritation studies conducted after a nonanimal replacement had been validated and approved for use under REACH. Just as worrisome, 107 studies were conducted without prior submission and approval of a testing proposal.
The European Ombudsman's decision directs ECHA to inform Member States of all possible instances of non-compliance - not just proven violations.
The Ombudsman further found that ECHA's refusal to ensure that dossiers comply with the principle of using animals only as a last resort is akin to amending REACH informally without involvement of the European Commission. The Ombudsman has issued clear direction for ECHA to request information from registrants to demonstrate compliance when required.
It is critical that ECHA immediately incorporate the Ombudsman's suggestions and make the necessary changes to fully act within the letter and the spirit of the law and, above all, ensure that animal testing is conducted only as a last resort.
Copies of PETA's complaint and related correspondence are available upon request. The Ombudsman's decision can be found here. For more information, please visit PETA.org.uk.
Tasgola Bruner 404-907-4172; TasgolaB@peta.org