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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 15:47 GMT
EU backs landmark chemicals law
Greenpeace activists
Environmentalists say Reach does not go far enough
European Union ministers have approved a landmark law on chemicals, after two years of discussion and lobbying.

The law requires firms to register all chemicals they produce or import, and to get authorisation for the most dangerous substances.

Industry says the law will impose heavy costs, but greens say it is too weak.

Because the ministers' version of the law differs from the text passed by the European Parliament last month, efforts to reconcile them will begin next year.

In particular, ministers relaxed the conditions set by parliament for authorisation of the most dangerous chemicals.

While MEPs said companies should be forced to replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones, where an alternative exists, the ministers said simply they should be encouraged to do so.

'Reasonable compromise'

Reach should lead to thousands of chemicals used in household products such as computers, toys and detergents, being tested for their impact on health and the environment for the first time.

We have succeeded in making Reach more effective and more workable
EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen

EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the deal was a "reasonable compromise" between industrial and environmental concerns.

"We have succeeded in making Reach more effective and more workable. And we have succeeded in maintaining the competitiveness of EU industry, and a crucial point, reducing the burden for small and medium-sized companies," he said.

However, environmentalists were not pleased.

"EU ministers failed today to seize a unique opportunity to protect people and the environment from the threat of toxic chemicals," seven green groups, including WWF and Greenpeace, said in a statement.

They urged the European Parliament to stick to its position when the bill comes up for a second reading in 2006.

Animal tests

The ministers supported a compromise reached in parliament on the registration procedures, which will cut the number of chemicals needing to be tested from 30,000 to nearer 12,500.

30,000 chemicals to be registered over 11 years
At least one million more animal tests
Estimated costs of c 5bn euros for business over 11 years
Billions of euros saved in healthcare costs
1,000 pages of text already, rising potentially to 15,000
1,000 amendments voted on by parliament
They also supported the parliament's moves to promote sharing of data, in order to minimise the duplication of tests, including tests on animals.

And where the parliament called for all authorisations to be reviewed within five years, the ministers said reviews should be set on a case-by-case basis.

The ministers also said that companies seeking authorisation for dangerous substances would have to prove that the risks could be adequately controlled and to provide information on possible alternatives.

Industry lobby group Unice said it would be very difficult for business to meet these conditions.

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