2nd July 2015
European Ombudsman gives us access to animal test documents
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has disclosed background information to Cruelty Free International about its decisions on animal tests in response to a request by the European Ombudsman.
The move comes following a complaint we made in November 2012 to the European Ombudsman, after ECHA rejected our request for more information about its decision to allow cruel tests to assess whether two chemicals might damage people’s fertility.
Under EU chemicals legislation REACH, companies must get permission from ECHA before carrying out animal tests on chemicals sold at particular quantities. Cruelty Free International was concerned that its decision to order these animal tests were contrary to REACH rules.
But ECHA refused our request to see the information which is circulated to the company and national governments for comment. It argued that it would undermine its decision-making.
It also claimed that it would to unfair lobbying of decision-makers, who would be likely to self-censor if they knew draft decisions and amendment proposals might become public. And it said that releasing complicated material could also mislead the public.
We believe it is an insult to the scientific integrity of decision-makers to suggest they would give anything other than their honest opinion. And there is no point lobbying decision-makers after a decision had been taken.
The Ombudsman described ECHA’s approach as ‘overbearing and paternalistic’ and roundly rejected their arguments. She said EU institutions release complicated documents on a daily basis, and ECHA could always publish explanations when disclosing documents.
She also said that it was ‘entirely legitimate’ for NGOs and others to seek to influence ECHA with scientific arguments, and this could indeed lead to better decision-making.
The Ombudsman’s stance will help ensure greater transparency in ECHA’s decision-making on animal testing.
The released documents show that two member states, the UK and Netherlands, were keen to avoid unnecessary use of animals in assessing the safety of the two chemicals in question, while Denmark was pushing for additional reproductive toxicity tests not required by REACH.
Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science at Cruelty Free International, commented, “We warmly welcome the Ombudsman’s approach. We have long been concerned that ECHA does not fulfil its obligations of ensuring that animal testing under REACH only takes place as a last resort. Opening up the decision-making process is key to ensuring that it does. It is a shame that it has taken so long for this issue to be resolved, but at least greater transparency should result in better decision-making and accountability for the future.”