TSCA Reform: Reasonable Certainty of Harm to Animals

European animal rights activists made a big mistake in 2006 when they failed to fight passage in the European Union of REACH, which is short for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals. Now that the U.S. Congress may soon consider a similar law, will American animal rights groups fight it or repeat the mistakes of their European counterparts?

Sometimes animal testing is necessary for scientific discovery and to ensure both safety and efficacy of of drugs and consumer products—including cosmetics.  But I have to agree with animal rights groups in Europe for complaining that the REACH program demands excessive and unnecessary animal testing.

REACH demands companies submit data, which in many cases requires animal testing,  to demonstrate their products are safe. This includes thousands of trace chemicals manufacturers have used safely for decades. This program has obvious economic costs, is bureaucratic and is unlikely to improve public health, as CEI documented in our study on the topic  before the program became law in 2006.  We also argued the REACH concept was fatally flawed and could not be fixed.  But animal rights groups did not put up a good fight; instead they negotiated a few amendments in an attempt to reduce the number of animals that would be tested.

Animal rights groups now appear to be the only ones who recognize some of the program’s fatal flaws.  In a recent statement, the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) notes:

However, the ECEAE has experienced many problems related to animal testing and we are disappointed to see that the Commission’s REACH review appears not to have gone far enough to acknowledge these issues.

One of the central goals of the legislation is the promotion of alternative methods with the requirement that animal testing would be a last resort. The Agency, the Commission and the Member States have however, failed, in our opinion, to uphold these principles. After all the promise of an ‘intelligent’, science-based approach, the Agency has reverted back to conservative, tick-box toxicology. We are seeing routine additional requests for animal tests in some areas, an almost complete failure to reject proposals to test on animals and a lack of leadership from the Commission or the Agency on the promotion of alternative methods that already exist.

Although it is good these activists finally stepped up to the plate, it’s too little, too late.  The big question remains: Why have these groups compromised their principles on REACH and worked to mitigate it rather than fight passage?  Perhaps they think government-mandated testing is more acceptable than private testing.  They never give private firms the pass they gave the EU on REACH, even when the testing makes sense.

In fact, after these groups dropped the ball on REACH, they then pushed the European Union’s 2011 Cosmetics Directive, which placed bans on the use of animals for cosmetics testing.  Although REACH imposes largely indiscriminate testing mandates, the cosmetics industry engaged in a very limited testing regime only where necessary. For example,the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association noted the number of animal tests conducted in Europe to ensure cosmetic safety in 2008 amounted to just 1,510 animals of more than 12 million animals used for scientific testing in Europe that year. REACH requires far more rodent testing than did the cosmetics industry.  The ECEAE estimates REACH will require 13 million to 54 million animals for tests conducted between 2009 and 2018, and REACH testing will continue beyond 2018.

Unfortunately, members of Congress, industry and environmentalists are negotiating reforms to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that  are modeled after the REACH program. The final bill is likely to include a provision that will demand chemical testing that ensures “reasonable certainty of no harm” to humans, a standard the federal government currently uses for pesticide regulation. Despite the standard’s terminology, the final result won’t be reasonable. Like REACH, it will demand massive retesting of trace chemicals that have been used in consumer products safely for decades. There is no certainty the law will generate any health benefits, but you can be sure it will needlessly harm lots of lab animals.

Will American animal-rights activists–as well as the more mainstream groups that support humane testing–step up and oppose such policies in the United States or will they  compromise their principles?