Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)

MONDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2004

MS JUDITH HACKITT, MR JOHN KEMP AND MR CRAIG BARKER

  Q220  Chairman: Who are you thinking about? Who are these people?

  Ms Hackitt: Who are people who could conduct the study?

  Q221  Chairman: Yes.

  Ms Hackitt: Any of one of the consultants that have already been involved clearly have a methodology to offer. I think what matters is sorting out the scope of what needs to be looked at—which is broader than what has been done so far—and that it is done in an open and transparent way looking at costs and benefits, I would add. I do not think we are just looking for an impact assessment that goes into great detail about the costs through the supply chain, we also very much support the idea that the benefits that have been claimed to this legislation also need to come under closer scrutiny than they have thus far.

  Q222  Chairman: Do you think environmental constraints have slowed growth rates? Adair Turner has said this. He says there is no evidence; do you think there is evidence?

  Ms Hackitt: I do not have evidence. I think it is all to do with whether legislation is well designed or not. Good legislation should not harm growth rates.

  Q223  Dr Iddon: Can I just press you on this element of competitiveness? When we were in front of the DG Enterprise last Monday in Brussels—a week ago today—he said that since all imports of chemicals will have to play by the same rules it should not affect competitiveness. Do you have a comment to make on that? In other words, the chemicals imported would have to be registered, evaluated and authorised in the same way that any produced in Britain or Europe would have to be.

  Ms Hackitt: First of all, we have yet to see how that is going to be made to happen. I think policing imports into Europe will be a major challenge and we have yet to see how that would be done effectively. Even if that is done, the question will still remain of, will that also apply to imported goods containing chemicals? If not, then I think we would all expect to see manufacture move out of the EU in order to avoid some of the costs of testing.

  Mr Kemp: Remember also that many of things that we make within the EU today are not actually sold in the EU but are exported. That is an area where manufacturing in the UK would be subject to this legislation and we are competing with people in other parts of the world. In my company 25% of our EU manufacture is exported out of the EU and is not following the same rules and having the same costs. I think the other thing is that many chemical companies—I would characterise my chemical company as at best a medium sized chemical company—do operate on a global basis. So if you make it more difficult for us to do, for example, research in the EU, a lot of companies are just going to consider where they are going to do that research. Why would we do it in the EU when we are supplying a global market? Typically our customers want a product that they can market world-wide; it matters not to us really where we do that research, we do it wherever is the most cost effective place to do it.

  Q224  Bob Spink: Animal testing. Let us get straight to an issue that will excite massive public debate, I suspect, as it dawns on the public what are the implications of REACH on animal testing. First of all, whose job do you think it is to communicate the importance of animal testing to the public?

  Ms Hackitt: I think it is a shared responsibility between industry and governments and I think what is more important to us is the need to be honest with people about the alternatives that are available. In the debate that has gone on thus far one of our concerns would be that there has been some misleading statements made about when and where you can substitute other means for animal testing and just how readily available and accepted those test methods are to date.

  Q225  Bob Spink: Are you sorry that the Commission, in bringing forward these REACH proposals, have not been more up front and honest with the public about the consequences in terms of animal testing that these proposals will have? Do you think they have a responsibility to be more balanced and to come up front and say that what they are proposing will mean more animal testing?

  Ms Hackitt: Yes, I do. In part my inference about readiness and availability of other test methods to replace or substitute for animal testing was aimed at that very point. We do not believe—in fact we know—that those alternative test methods have a long way to go in many cases to being accepted as alternatives and that needs to be clear to people.

  Q226  Bob Spink: Do you think the industry is focussing enough on developing these alternatives?

  Mr Barker: I do not think it is only industry who should do that; that is a shared task, quite clearly. Industry has to take part in it, but also the legislators have to work in that direction. There does not seem to be enough emphasis on producing the alternatives to animal testing.

  Mr Kemp: We do not test animals because we want to; we test them because generally we are required to do it to put a new product onto the market.

  Q227  Bob Spink: In order to make it safe for the public to use?

  Mr Barker: Yes.

  Q228  Dr Harris: We have just had a discussion with the Science Minister in an earlier evidence session about the issues of animal rights extremists or activists. Is it an issue for you now—if this becomes a higher profile matter—that your central testing facility or individual testing facilities in UK based plants or headquarters may well become a target? What plans do you have to deal with that?

  Ms Hackitt: It is already a concern for many of our members that this legislation has brought to the activists' attention the amount of animal testing that this legislation will require. In terms of what we can do about it, I think the first thing is to make our position clear. As my colleague has already said, we do not want to see any more animal testing done than is absolutely necessary. For that very reason we would be supportive of any moves proposed to minimise animal testing through the sharing of test data, and only doing those tests that are truly required. Again, there is a huge important role for the Central Agency to play in this process to ensure that good, sound decision making is taken about what testing needs to be done on any substance rather than any member states simply doing a full set of tests in order to cover all of the possibilities that might be thrown at them.

  Q229  Bob Spink: Craig Barker was mentioning earlier about alternatives. Do you think there will come a time when there are real alternatives and we can use those alternatives rather than animal testing and still achieve the same level of safety for the public? Or do you think in some areas you are going to need animal testing for as long as the eye can see?

  Mr Barker: It is a balance between those two things. I would say that there should be methodology in determining whether there is a problem or not, then the alternative would be to undertake the testing in animals. We have been doing this over twenty years now in the US under their Toxic Substances Control Act, TSCA requirements. For me that seems to function. You call upon animal testing only when there is a concern, when they have checked the structure of your chemistry and by putting it through their system of checking the structure they then would ask you to do a certain test.

  Q230  Bob Spink: Do you think that the system in the US—which is more based on real hazard and prioritisation—works better than the system they are trying to introduce here?

  Mr Barker: I do not believe that is the case. I think quite clearly the situation in the US is more risk based than anywhere. They are very specific on determining exposure scenarios, especially in the area of their toxic substance control. On undertaking your submissions for a new substance in the States quite clearly you have to give more information on your exposure scenarios and how your chemistry is being used rather than you would at present under the European scheme.

  Bob Spink: You will see when you read the transcript that you are actually agreeing with me.

  Q231  Dr Turner: Clearly the amount of animal testing that is required is going to be directly related to the number of registrations that happen, and the proposal of one substance one registration is suggested to be a way of reducing the amount of animal testing. Do you think it is a workable proposition? Do you think the Government or the Chemicals Agency or the EU Commission have any role in facilitating the formation of consortia for carrying out testing and determining the cost of it?

  Ms Hackitt: Yes, we do. Let me take your earlier point first, do we think one substance one registration is a workable proposition? Not as an absolute rule, no we do not. We do believe that as a principle that should guide what we try to do in terms of sharing data wherever possible, encouraging people to come together and share data, share costs and most certainly to share data on animal testing to avoid any duplication, those elements of the principle of one substance one registration we fully support.

  Q232  Dr Turner: One other caveat has been put to us which is that as well as looking at the substance we should look at the process by which a substance is produced because different processes may produce a different range of trance contaminates which may themselves be toxic. Do you have any view on that?

  Mr Barker: It is not so much the process, it is more the end point, the substance as a whole you have to deal with. Yes, I think you do, to a certain extent, you have to look at the product as its whole, including its impurities and by-products. However, using trained toxicologists quite clearly you can bring those analogous substances together. We should make full use of that opportunity.

  Q233  Dr Turner: Are you worried about companies who have not contributed to any of the work that is involved in registration coming in and freeloading and getting the benefit of work that has been done at the expense of other companies in business?

  Ms Hackitt: Of course that would be a concern and I think again that comes back to your earlier point about is there a role for the Commission to play in encouraging—and in some cases mandating—people to come together and to co-operate in putting substances through this process. We feel there is a very important role to be played in ensuring that those things happen.

  Q234  Dr Turner: The Competition Commissioner told us in Brussels that sharing the animal data is obligatory under the current proposals. Is that your understanding of it and do you see this as being enforceable?

  Ms Hackitt: Yes.

  Mr Kemp: I would say that I support it and also that it should be enforceable. I do not see any issue with that. I think our issue with one substance one registration does not come from that. There are two parts of registration: one is generation of the physico-chemical data and the data from animal testing. That is the piece that we think we should be absolutely maximising all co-operation, getting people working together. The other part is about end uses and the risks associated with end uses. We feel very clearly that when you can have the same chemical with very different end uses, trying to put all that together in one risk assessment will just slow down the whole process and make the whole thing unworkable. If you co-operate on the piece that you can co-operate on—which is the generation of data—then each of you who have different uses for a substance then go and do your risk assessment in terms of end use et cetera—which in many cases is also fairly confidential information which we would be loathed to share with others—I think you can get the best of both worlds.

  Q235  Dr Iddon: You seem to have a problem with the registration phase. You are arguing for registration of all substances at the same time whereas as I understand it the present proposal is registration by tonnage of production in three different levels. Can you say exactly what your objection is to the registration proposal?

  Ms Hackitt: I apologise if I give the impression that I am arguing for everything to be registered all at once. Far from it. I think if we are going to have a workable system there has to be an orderly queuing process. At the moment that orderly queuing process is envisaged based upon volume. My argument—and the industry's argument—is that volume may well not be the best way or the single way of conducting that and we believe that a pre-registration prioritisation process to decide which substances of concern should be assessed first would serve everyone better.

  Q236  Dr Iddon: Who determines the prioritisation? Which chemicals are of the most concern, who makes the final decision on that?

  Ms Hackitt: I think that is a decision which should involve consumers, retailers; it certainly should not be a matter for the chemical industry to decide in isolation. It should be one that involves all stakeholders.

  Q237  Mr McWalter: Would you clarify something for me, please? Common salt, NaCL is clearly a chemical, it is clearly produced in quantities above a thousand tonnes and so on, so potentially it would be something to be tested. We know it is toxic, of course. Could you produce a dossier which says that this substance has been used for thousands of years and your dossier could be a one line long? In other words, see if there is a way of meeting the criteria without having a massive amount of stuff to be put into an analysis of that sort. Or is it assumed that there is going to a huge great series of dossiers about common salt?

  Ms Hackitt: Potentially there could be, is the answer. We would prefer to go towards your earlier description of a proportionate and pragmatic system that takes account of common sense and what data we have and know about.

  Q238  Mr McWalter: Would you do a trial of a one line dossier of commonly accepted substances even though they have a demonstrated toxic capacity?

  Mr Barker: You would not even need that. In many cases most of these chemicals have already gone through several evaluations over their lifespan. We have had the existing chemicals legislation; we have had the HPV programmes running in the States and under the OECD initiatives. These have all gone through these types of chemicals and we are not using those to the best advantage of this legislation; they have just been ignored.

  Q239  Dr Iddon: We were told on Monday at the Commission that natural products are not included in this legislation and I would regard sodium chloride as an absolutely natural product since it occurs in the sea. I think they are going to have trouble by excluding natural products because what is a natural product? Can I take the evaluation stage next? When you talk to commissioners and to the green NGOs they give you the impression that industry is sat on loads of basic toxicity data and it has never been published—possibly for competition reasons, possibly for reasons of formulation of products—and the evaluation stage of REACH is going to be made much easier if industry comes up with all this stuff and banks it with the Agency in Helsinki or wherever it is going to be based. Can you comment on that suggestion?

  Mr Kemp: Industry has shown itself very willing and capable under the current US, EPA, HPV programme to put all its information on the table and share it. The thing that you get is that the requirements under this legislation go much further than anything else. I am sure you will know that, depending on tonnage, there are four different annexes which specify the amount of testing that you need to do. The stuff that has been done for the most advanced programmes today only goes through annex five and six and a little into annex seven. Annex seven and annex eight are the one where we really start spending money and really get involved in a lot of animal testing unless we get this pragmatic approach for evaluation. In fact, one of the biggest things which is going to determine the level of animal testing is the pragmatism which the member state authorities show in terms of approving the testing plans that you have to propose as part of this legislation. The easiest thing for them to do—and frankly what many of them have done in the past—is just to say that as we can demand all this testing, we will have it all. Having all that testing of a substance over a thousand tonnes (the annex eight material) which, in the chemical industry is nothing—a thousand tonnes is a very small volume material—if they demand everything we are talking about a cost of a million pounds per substance and we are talking about, in round terms, a thousand animals being tested.


 
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