Agreement to speed approval of tests that avoid the use of animals, after pressure from MEPs

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France

Under pressure from MEPs, the European Commission has promised to speed up validation and authorisation of toxicity tests that avoid the use of animals.

In return, the European Parliament agreed on 22 May to lift its blockade on draft legislation that specifies tests to be used in Reach, the EU’s regime for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals.

Due to impending repeal of current EU chemicals legislation, the Commission had to promise reforms - or run the risk that there would be no applicable law on chemical testing as of 1 June, when Reach ’pre-registration’ procedures are activated.

The Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, had been dismayed to discover that in vitro tests scientifically validated during 2006 and 2007 by the EU’s own European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) had been omitted from the REACH rules.

That’s because the Commission does not automatically authorise ECVAM tests. Instead, the Brussels body prefers to wait while the Paris-based OECD seeks broader, international consensus on tests - notably with those developed by an American federal body, the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). 

But publication of an OECD Test Guideline can take at least three years, according to Guido Sacconi, the Italian Socialist MEP who steered the main Reach legislation through its parliamentary stages.

When a follow-up draft covering Reach tests was presented to the Parliament in February, MEPs were ’annoyed’ by the omission of the ECVAM tests, Sacconi said. ’One of the main objectives of REACH - which we managed to secure with great difficulties in negotiation with the Commission and the Council of Ministers - was precisely the promotion of alternative test methods,’ he explained.

Moreover, it emerged that the ECVAM procedure itself is prone to delays if EU advisory bodies and national governments fail to offer timely comments on ECVAM drafts. 

MEPs demanded formal commitments from Industry Commissioner Guenther Verheugen before giving a belated go-ahead to the REACH test rules.

Verheugen said the Commission will ’simplify and accelerate’ current validation procedures and introduce deadlines for feedback from advisory bodies and state agencies. In the event of unwarranted delays at the OECD the Commission itself would rule on ECVAM drafts, he said.

Verheugen also envisaged that the EU will lend Commission staff to the OECD to facilitate international negotiations - and is even prepared to help defray OECD administrative costs.