Can Europe replace animal testing of chemicals?


As revisions to the EU’s regulatory system look certain to increase toxicity tests on animals, the region ponders whether it will ever be able to conduct chemical safety assessments with alternative methods.

On Sept. 15, 2021, members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a European Union–wide plan for phasing out the use of animals in research and testing. The plan demands that the European Commission set “ambitious and achievable” objectives and timelines for transitioning to a research system that does not use animals. Highly publicized at the time, the parliament’s call to action epitomized political and societal pressure to eliminate animal testing in Europe.

With less fanfare, the commission was also beginning last fall to implement a set of policy initiatives that are part of the European Green Deal, a road map for making the EU carbon neutral by 2050. First presented in December 2019, the initiatives require tougher controls on chemicals—controls that are certain to result in substantially more testing on animals than is currently required.

These contradictory actions encapsulate a debate that has vexed the European chemical community for decades. In theory, assessing chemical safety without using animals means everybody wins: it’s cheaper, it’s faster, and it allows regulators to scan more substances for potential hazards without causing unnecessary suffering. But in practice, some experts say, testing without animals can come at the cost of protecting human health.

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c&en, 15-08-22