EU to Cut Back Animal Testing

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The European Commission and industry leaders agreed Monday to look for ways to cut back on animal testing, with a view to putting an end to the practice in the long run.

Seven industry associations from the pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cosmetics and biotechnology sectors agreed with the EU executive commission to map out research activities jointly and to cooperate in developing and validating new testing strategies, such a test that uses human cells and replaces rabbit testing (search).

"I personally believe ... that it's possible to bring the figures down to zero, not in the short-term but in the medium or long term, " EU Industry Commissioner Guenther Verheugen (search) told journalists at the European Parliament.

European businesses and laboratories use about 11 million animals each year for testing, three times as many as 30 years ago. About 50 percent of these are used in research and development of human medicine and biology studies, about 16 percent in quality control and about 10 percent for toxicological (search) and other safety evaluation.

Verheugen said he would make sure a proposed EU bill that would strengthen controls of hazardous chemicals and force firms to replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives does not lead to an increase in animal testing.

Under the proposals for the new legal framework for chemicals, known under the acronym REACH, responsibility for testing chemicals would shift from governments to manufacturers, who would be required to provide safety data for some 30,000 chemicals.

"In the worst-case scenario, the direct testing costs connected with REACH would be euro2.4 billion (US$2.8 billion) and 3.9 million animals would be used," Verheugen said. "Animal testing is very expensive for safety assessments. I will do everything I can to change REACH."

The European Parliament is to vote on REACH later this month.