Changing perspectives and alternative thinking critical to advancing discussions around animal testing replacements

MEP Jutta Paulus reflects on the barriers to implement new technologies to replace animal testing at PrecisionTox's Informative Breakfast on research and policy insights exploring the barriers to New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) for chemical risk assessment at the European Parliament
Photographer: Sebastien PIRLET Copyright: © European Union 2017 - Source : EP

By Carme Pizà Juan-Muns

Carme Pizà Juan-Muns is the Social Media Manager at Altertox.

06 Dec 2023

Are we ready to stop animal testing for the regulatory safety assessment of chemicals? It depends on who you ask. PrecisonTox researchers Laura Holden and Prof. Robert Lee (University of Birmingham) have showcased the results of their upcoming “Report on socio-technical barriers to the take up of NAMs” about the roadblocks that are perceived by stakeholders. The event took place at the European Parliament, where Laura Holden set the scene describing how NAMs can present an opportunity to increase the protection of human and environmental health because they increase our understanding of how chemicals cause harm. However, despite the considerable progress in the scientific development of NAMs, barriers to the regulatory uptake of NAMs remain. Laura Holden explained that “our research looked to understand the nuances and root causes that delay the regulatory uptake of NAMs.”

The focus on social and people-based factors distinguishes their study from past narrower debates which tended to focus on the scientific maturity of the next generation of chemical risk assessment. Prof. Robert Lee detailed the findings of their study which include insights on differences in societal expectations and the trust of different actors in the scientific and legal transition away from animal studies. He said “Regulatory authorities are afraid of being sued when they accept NAM data, they are very risk adverse”. This was picked up by MEP Paulus: “It was very important to have this societal look on the issue. I wasn’t aware that regulators are afraid of being sued. I assumed they would do what they have always done and like most of us are not prone to change.” 

Some participants asked how they can increase the dialogue between regulators and the industry sector in Europe. Reference was made to other jurisdictions (e.g. US/Canada), where the dialogue about acceptance of submission of NAM data for chemical safety assessment guides the transition to phase out animal testing. A Commission official cautioned about expectations on the application of this concept in EU legislation, particularly REACH “We would welcome practical ideas on how to approach such a dialogue between regulators and industry. Comparable legislation in the US or Canada covers far less chemicals than REACH. This allows them to engage in more dialogue with industry. So how can we achieve the same thing in EU in practice?”. 

The event showed the high complexity of the subject and the need for an increased focus on the societal aspects that need to be addressed in future capacity-building events. More details on the subject can be found on the PrecisionTox website. The Informative Breakfast was organized by PrecisionTox, a project that aims to better protect the health of people and the environment by establishing NAMs for chemical safety testing using a mix of genomics, metabolomics, evolutionary theory, quantitative genetics, data science, toxicology, and law. PrecisionTox gathers 15 European and North American partners led by the University of Birmingham. 

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