Brexit could increase the use of dangerous chemicals and animal testing

Monday 4 December 2017
Libby Peake Libby PeakeHead of resource policy (on maternity leave until October 2022)020 7630
Brexit could increase the use of dangerous chemicals, require millions more animal toxicity tests and saddle people in the UK with shoddy products.

A study by think tank Green Alliance, on behalf of the business group, the Circular Economy Task Force, examines environmental challenges facing the government from Brexit and assesses the risks. [1]

Among the impacts highlighted are:

• Reduced protection from harmful chemicals. Leaving REACH (the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) would mean an instant loss of access to a world leading database on chemical safety covering more than 25,000 chemicals. It has been suggested the UK could set up its own regime, but this would be very expensive and would duplicate bureaucracy and safety testing, including on animals. Registration of a single, high tonnage chemical can require thousands of animal tests, which may have to be done again by a UK system. [2]
​​• Poorer quality products. No longer applying EU ecodesign standards in the UK risks opening up the domestic market to substandard products from other countries, undercutting UK businesses (which will still have to maintain the standards to trade with countries in the EU) and saddling consumers with the costs and inconvenience of shoddy goods. Energy standards for lighting, vacuums, boilers and computers are saving UK households hundreds of pounds a year. [3]
​​• Backsliding on waste. The EU’s current recycling targets expire in 2020, and there is no promise to replace them in the UK. Without ambitious new recycling targets, progress could slip on recycling provision and lead to the reopening of landfills. This is not what people want: 93 per cent of people in the UK say recycling is personally important to them. [4] 

The government has committed to developing a resources strategy for England “that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU”. [5] Green Alliance’s report sets out recommendations for the new strategy that would avoid risks created by Brexit, including negotiating to stay in REACH, continuing to co-operate on EU ecodesign standards and adopting ambitious new targets for recycling and waste minimisation.

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said:
The resource policies we choose after Brexit will have a real effect on people’s lives. We’re at a crossroads – we can either improve our protections and use of resources or revert to simple waste management. The wrong decisions could harm our environment, businesses and citizens. But people didn’t vote to increase animal testing or to be exposed to more dangerous chemicals and shoddy products. [6] Defra’s renewed strategy on resources is the opportunity to take the right path towards a more resource efficient future instead.”

Dr Colin Church, CEO of CIWM, the professional body for resource and waste management, and chair of the Circular Economy Task Force, said:
“In the EU or out, the UK is part of a global market where European standards on recycling, products and chemicals have set the benchmark for keeping us and our environment safe and healthy. This is something recognised by the vast majority of people. Clearly, we need to keep to those standards and protections, if not better them.”

Libby Peake (available for interview)
Senior policy adviser – resources, Green Alliance
Direct line: 020 7630 4529

[1] A new direction for UK resource strategy after Brexit is the sixth report of the Circular Economy Task Force, a business led group convened by Green Alliance. It is a forum for policy, innovation and business thinking on resource use in the UK. The current members are Aquapac, Boots, Kingfisher, Kyocera Document Solutions, Viridor and WRAP.

[2] According to UK REACH Competent Authority Information Leaflet Number 18 – Minimisation of Animal Testing from July 2016: “For a single, high-tonnage substance, with no pre-existing data, and no attempt to minimise animal testing, registration and subsequent fulfilment of the information gaps could require over 5,000 animals (assuming little or no avian testing). The REACH Regulation provides opportunities to reduce costs and register effectively using fewer animals than predicted.”
[3] Ecofys, 7 October 2016, Benefits of ecodesign for EU households suggests that ecodesign rules save an average EU household €332 each year.
[4] Matthew Evans, associate director of Ipsos Mori, noted in a presentation on 12 March 2015, ‘What is the latest research on customers’ views on recycling and waste?’, that 93 per cent of people in the UK say recycling is personally very or fairly important to them.
[5] Michael Gove announced the plan in his first speech as environment minister, The unfrozen moment: delivering a green Brexit.

[6] A poll conducted on behalf of SumOfUs and CHEM Trust by GQR Researcharly, for instance, found nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of British citizens – including 62 per cent of Leave voters – believe that there should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU.

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