On January 19th 2016, Trainee Solicitor, Alexandra Jones had the chance to attend a seminar titled ‘Lost in Translation- from Science to Regulation’ at Birmingham Law School. The one day seminar focused on how the EU and national regulators translate scientific research into law and policy. The issues addressed included chemicals regulation, climate change, nanotechnology, fracking and synthetic biology.
The seminar was split into bite-sized presentations, focusing on topics such as ‘The use of science in EU chemical regulation’ and ‘Timescapes of Technoscience and Law’. Speakers included academics, advisers from DEFRA, an advisor from the World Trade Organisation and an advisor at the European Commission. There were also a number of opportunities to network and debate with other individuals about controversial topics, such as fracking. Of particular interest to Zyda Law were the presentations on EU chemical regulations, the regulation of fracking, and the issues involved with regulating nanomaterials.
The seminar was particularly interesting as it involved the opinions of both scientific academics and legal academics. Biochemist, Professor Mark Viant explained how scientific testing is progressing for chemicals, and what this has meant for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (‘REACH’) regulations. Professor Mark Viant detailed that REACH was adopted at EU level in order to protect human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals. Although the legislation was useful in principle, the cost of testing all of the chemicals identified under REACH would amount to 9.5 billion euros, and would involve testing over 54 million animals. At present two thirds of the chemicals have not been subjected to animal testing, due to the huge price, both in monetary value and in animal life. In the past, REACH has been criticised for its poor scientific basis, with scientists arguing that the legislation is lacking in knowledge as to what can be regarded as a safe threshold for each chemical under REACH.
However, since REACH has been implemented, scientific advances have meant that deficiencies in knowledge have been addressed through the use of petri dishes of human cells, and cell based toxicity screening using alternative animal’s models to test the chemicals. Professor Mark Viant argued that substance safety is complex, and in order for the adequate regulation of chemicals, academics, scientists, policy makers, regulators and lawyers must all be engaged.
The seminar concluded with a discussion focusing on how to move forward to regulate science effectively. One of the ideas mooted was for scientists and lawyers to work in conjunction with regulators to ensure that legislation is not lagging behind new advances in science. However, scientists argued that this was not a feasible option as they would not be able to gain funding for this. A healthy debate ensued, taking into account the opinions of regulators, scientists and academics. Overall, the day proved to be lively, interesting and intellectually stimulating, and Zyda Law would like to thank Birmingham University for organising it.
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