Alternatives to animal testing widely used in Europe, but more work needed

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Alternatives to animal testing widely used in Europe, but more work needed

Related tags Animal testing

Formulators are using alternatives to animal testing for at least one endpoint in 89% of substances analysed in Europe, says the European Chemicals Agency.

However, the EU regulatory body notes, there is more to be done in this area and “industry needs to improve the quality and robustness of alternative data”. The data is not solely for the cosmetics industry, but for all industries involved in chemicals use.

The ECHA comments come on the release of its third report under the use of alternative methods to animal testing, which was fully banned for testing cosmetics in Europe in 2013. It forms part of the REACH regulatory framework for chemicals in Europe.

Between 2008 and 2016, 6,290 substances have been submitted to the ECHA, and 89% of these have had at least one data endpoint where an alternative testing method was used.

The most common alternative method was using information on similar substances (read-across), used in 63% of the analysed substances, followed by combining information from different sources (weight of evidence, 43 %) and computer modelling (QSAR prediction, 34%).

Knowledge sharing

The ECHA notes from its report that one of the most effective ways to use alternatives is through data sharing, noting that 98% of substances are now registered jointly.

Registrants also make extensive use of existing information and alternative methods before conducting new studies, the body observes.

Last resort

Testing on vertebrate animals is only allowed as a last resort under REACH and ECHA’s objective is to promote non-animal testing methods and other alternatives. The ECHA report looks at all industries testing chemical safety, not just cosmetics.

Because of this broadness of scope, taking all of the endpoints and substances analysed that can be filled by tests on vertebrate animals, registrants used data from new vertebrate animal studies in 11% of the cases. This means that animal testing still continues in Europe for certain chemicals.

ECHA’s Executive Director Geert Dancet says: “Testing chemicals on animals should be the last resort – when there is no other scientifically reliable way to assess the potential effects of chemicals on humans or the environment.”

Dancet is keen for industries to continue pushing the quality of alternative testing methods in order to further broaden their reach and minimise animal testing wherever possible.

“Registrants need to improve the quality of the alternative data. We will use this report’s findings to promote the proper use of alternative methods and to support their further scientific development,​” he asserts.

“We encourage registrants for the 2018 deadline to use the available in vitro methods, read-across and QSARs.”

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