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EC's £107m bid to avoid animal testing

The European Commission is planning to spend €150 million (£107 million) in the next decade on new science to avoid a chemical industry logjam.

Thomas Hartung of the commission's joint research centre says the research, to develop computer and laboratory-based models of chemical toxicity, is needed in the light of the publication last week of commission consultative paper on the chemical industry.

The paper calls for detailed toxic safety results to be available for every chemical of which more than a tonne a year is produced in Europe. There are about 30,000 such chemicals.

Professor Hartung, who heads the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods at Ispra in Italy, points to figures from the UK Home Office that suggest testing this number of chemicals would cost up to E8 billion and kill about 13 million laboratory animals.

"Using this many animals is no longer acceptable to the public in Europe," Professor Hartung says. "In any case the laboratory facilities to do these tests do not exist. Trying to carry them out would cause a logjam that would prevent any new chemicals being introduced in Europe."

Professor Hartung's centre is developing methods to replace animal testing with alternatives. He says: "Some of these use living cells, for instance for testing chemical effects on skin and eyes.

"Now we are moving on to tests based on genetic methods, where we try to find out which types of chemicals turn which sets of genes on and off."

Evcam is also working on "in silico" or computer-based methods in which data from chemicals could produce reliable predictions of the effect of similar new ones.

Professor Hartung said: "The cosmetics industry gets a quarter of its turnover from products introduced in the previous six months. L'Oreal introduces 3,000 products a year. The fact that it has to find alternatives to animal tests in six years means there is bound to be rapid innovation."

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