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February 19, 2009

HSI Europe Applauds EU Move to Retire Rabbits from Skin Irritation Testing

Humane Society International

BRUSSELS – Today, Humane Society International (HSI) Europe celebrated a key milestone in its Hop To It! Campaign, following a move by the European Commission and Member States to officially recognise three non-animal test methods as full and complete replacements for skin irritation tests using rabbits and other animals. Once this proposed adaptation of the EU’s Test Methods Regulation [PDF] is ratified by the European Parliament and Council, animal testing for skin irritation will be prohibited under EU law, which forbids experiments on animals where alternative methods are “reasonably and practicably available.”

At the heart of HSI-Europe’s campaign are several artificially-grown skin models: three-dimensional reconstructions of human skin grown in culture, which have been shown to readily distinguish between irritating and non-irritating chemicals at a fraction of the time and cost of animal testing.¹ The first of two formal statements confirming the validity of these methods was issued in April 2007 by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) [PDF]; yet it has taken the EU and Member State bureaucrats nearly two years to bring these animal-saving methods into practical use. In fact, it was only through HSI-Europe’s campaign that these unacceptable delays were brought to the attention of the European Parliament, which passed a resolution in May calling for tangible progress on this matter before year’s end.

The impact of today’s action by the Commission will be most significant in the following EU commercial sectors:

  • Chemicals, in which the current REACH requirement for animal skin irritation data for approximately 10,000 substances produced in quantities of more than 10 metric tonnes per year will need to be repealed, thereby sparing the lives of up to 30,000 rabbits.
  • Agrochemicals and biocides, in which requirements for skin irritation data for both pesticidal “active ingredients” as well as finished formulations will need to be revised to specify the use of strictly non-animal methods, thereby saving hundreds or thousands more animals each year.
  • Cosmetics, in which all animal testing for skin irritation is due to be outlawed as of March 2009 according to the 7th Amendment of the Cosmetics Directive.

HSI vice president Kitty Block says:

“Today we celebrate the beginning of the end for one of the oldest and most widely criticised animal tests in history. By embracing new testing methods based on 21st century science, the EU is making a vital statement that the goals of animal, human health and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.

“HSI-Europe applauds the EU’s leadership in the development and validation of alternatives to animal testing, and now calls upon the Commission and Member States to update regulations and test guidelines to eliminate the animal method and enforce an EU-wide ban on animal skin irritation testing so that this barbaric practice can assume its rightful place in the rubbish-bin of history.”  

Building on the momentum of this major milestone in the EU, HSI’s affiliates around the globe are mobilising campaigns to promote worldwide acceptance of the human skin model tests, and ultimately, bring an end to this animal test once and for all. 

1 High-resolution photographs of the non-animal test methods are available here.

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Humane Society International is amongst the most respected names in animal welfare, representing more than 11 million members and supporters worldwide, with offices in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, India and the United States. Visit our EU policy office online at HSIEurope.org.

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