Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report


1. On 29 October 2003, the European Commission[1] adopted Proposals for a new EU regulatory framework for chemicals known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals).[2] Its objectives were:

  • Protection of human health and the environment;
  • Maintain and enhance the competitiveness of the EU chemical industry;
  • Prevent the fragmentation of the internal market;
  • Increase transparency;
  • Integrate with international efforts;
  • Promote non-animal testing;
  • Conform to EU international obligations under the WTO.

2. While these aims are not contentious, the means by which they are achieved is. There has been criticism from three main lobbies: industry, environmental NGOs and animal welfare groups. Industry argues that the Proposals threaten the competitiveness of the European chemical industry, with one study predicting the loss of over 2 million jobs in Germany alone. Environmental groups have predicted that REACH could save the UK £50 billion by reducing "modern diseases" associated with exposure to toxic chemicals. By demanding that many chemicals already on the market undergo new tests, animal welfare groups are concerned by the increased number of animals that will be used.

3. With huge potential benefits and costs, we decided to conduct an inquiry into how the impact of legislation can be optimised. Announced on 29 October, our inquiry sought to establish what, in order of priority, needed to be amended in the legislation, and what the implications would be if those amendments were not made. We were also interested in views on the role played by the UK Government[3] and what action it should take in the final stages of the legislative process.[4] Our inquiry took as its starting point the acceptance that REACH was the only system under discussion at this stage in the legislative process and that our energies could best be directed at identifying areas where the legislation could be modified to make it more workable and more effective. We will, however, comment on the process by which the Commission arrived at its Proposals.

4. We held four oral evidence sessions. We took evidence from environmental non-governmental organisations (WWF and Greenpeace), the retail industry (British Retail Consortium and Marks and Spencer) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection on 19 January 2004. During a visit to Brussels on 2 February 2003, we took evidence from the EC Directorates General for Environment and Enterprise, including Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society. Our visit to Brussels also included briefings from Dr Michael Warhurst, Scientific Officer of WWF in Brussels and Mr Utz Tillman, Executive Director of CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council. On our return, on 9 February, we questioned a panel representing the UK chemicals industry, and heard evidence from the Government, including the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Minister of State for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality. We received over 20 written submissions to the inquiry. We have drawn on submission's to the Commission's public internet consultation held in 2002, and the Government's consultation document, published in March 2004.

5. The new legislation is highly complex, in six volumes covering 1328 pages. This inquiry has not attempted an in-depth analysis of the legislation. Its aim has been to identify the important areas where there is disagreement between the campaign groups, the UK Government and the Commission in an effort to make recommendations to the UK Government about where it should try to further influence the legislative process.

1   Hereafter referred to as the Commission or EC. Back

2   COM (2003) 644 final 2003/0256 (COD) concerning a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency and amending Directive 1999/45/EC and Regulation (EC) {on Persistent Organic Pollutants}; and COM (2003) 644 final 2003/0257 (COD) Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Council Directive 67/548/EEC in order to adapt it to Regulation (EC) of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. Back

3   Hereafter referred to as the Government. Back

4   Press Notice No. 47, Session 2002-2003 Back

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