Throughout the world, millions of laboratory animals are used in tests to assess the safety of chemicals.
Chemicals form the basis of, or are added to, a huge variety of products in everyday use. This includes paints, dyes, plastics, pesticides, household cleaners, cosmetics and food additives (also see: medicines and vaccines). Because many chemicals are very poisonous, the safety tests can involve considerable suffering and animals are always killed at the end of a test. The types of animals used include large numbers of fish, rats and mice as well as smaller numbers of rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and dogs.
- More than one million animals were used for testing the safety of chemicals in the European Union (EU) during 2008 [latest available data].
What we believe
We believe that the need for safety tests on animals can and should be questioned. Not all chemicals are of real value to society, and not all the tests are useful in deciding how to protect the users of a chemical.
Also, many animal safety tests are very poor at predicting exactly what a chemical will do to people. The development and use of more reliable alternative methods would benefit human health and safety, as well as eliminating a great deal of animal suffering. Our views on the use of animals in safety testing are more fully explained in our report: The use of animals in toxicity testing (2010) (PDF 432KB)
Testing chemicals for safety
To be able to use chemicals safely, it is necessary to know exactly how poisonous each one is, both to people and to wildlife. Some chemicals are very dangerous and, even at low doses, can cause the death of people exposed to them. Others are safe unless people are exposed to them at a very high dose, or for a long period of time. The types of tests, their exact purpose, and the suffering they cause to animals varies. Examples of tests include:
- using guinea pigs to assess whether a chemical may cause an allergic skin reaction
- studying whether exposing rats and mice to a chemical over their whole lifetime causes cancer.
Regulating the use of animals in testing
EU and UK laws tell manufacturers how they must test their chemicals for safety. Different laws cover different types of product, and abiding by these laws usually requires the use of animal tests. Read more in our report: Animal testing and the regulation of chemicals and products (2010) (PDF 297KB)
REACH - the EU chemicals law
A new EU law on chemicals came into force in June 2007. It requires the manufacturers or suppliers of many chemicals already used to submit information to the authorities on the health and environmental effects of their products. We lobbied hard for the use of animals to be avoided under this new law. Despite some success, millions of laboratory animals are likely to be used over the next ten years. Read more in our report: REACH - the new EU chemicals law (2007) (PDF 51.4KB)
Testing cosmetics and their ingredients on animals
A total ban on the sale in the European Union of cosmetics tested on animals takes effect in March 2013. Find out more.
Hope for the future
In recent years there have been encouraging signs of progress in replacing animals in some safety tests. These are described in our report: Replacement of animals in safety testing - a brighter outlook? (2008) (PDF 248KB)