Vision for a modern science-based approach to UK chemicals regulation

Working with the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs) we have identified actions to optimise opportunities presented from exiting the EU to develop a world-leading regulatory framework that firmly embeds the 3Rs in chemical safety testing.

Companies that produce chemicals are required by law to ensure that their products are safe for humans and the environment. The regulations governing this in the European Union (e.g. Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, aka REACH) were directly transposed into UK law upon EU-Exit. Working with a group of experts from industry and academia we have developed a paper to set out the investment and commitment required to improve domestic chemical safety regulation and enable the use of the latest technological and scientific developments. Embracing a more flexible, modernised and sustainable approach to UK chemicals regulation will create significant scientific, business and societal benefits, by reducing the reliance on animal-based testing methods to protect human health and the environment.

There are clear opportunities to harness the strength of the UK science and technology sectors to place it as a world leader with innovative chemicals regulation grounded in the latest technologies. This will require buy-in from multiple-stakeholders alongside investment and commitment from government to develop a framework that provides the highest level of human and environmental health protection.

There are four key areas where progress is needed:

  1. A shared aspiration and desire to modernise the chemicals regulation framework to ensure the highest protection of human health, safeguard the environment and stimulate the economy.
  2. A long-term financial commitment by government combined with clear and decisive leadership and ambition.
  3. A coordinated approach to deliver a new regulatory framework that facilitates cooperation between regulatory agencies and provides the necessary training and career structure that encourages the recruitment and retention of strong scientific talent.
  4. Harmonisation of approaches worldwide to promote a more modern approach to chemicals regulation that fosters international cooperation and trade, where the UK takes centre stage.

This work follows on from a joint workshop the NC3Rs held with Unilever last year which brought together over 50 scientists from government departments responsible for implementing UK chemical safety policy, alongside representatives from industry and UK-based academic scientists. The workshop was the first step in building a consensus vision across the UK science base on the future direction of domestic chemicals regulation. The results of these detailed discussions are summarised in the workshop report.