Europe slaps full ban on animal testing for cosmetics

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Guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits can sleep safe and sound in Europe as of today (11 March) after the last deadline specified in the Cosmetics Regulation entered into force across the European Union, forbidding the industry from using animal testing.

The European Commission confirmed its commitment to enforce the deadlines set in the 2003 Cosmetics Regulation in a Communication published on Monday (11 March).

Tonio Borg, the European Commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer policy, said the marketing ban was an important signal of the value that Europe attaches to animal welfare.

“The Commission is committed to continue supporting the development of alternative methods and to engage with third countries to follow our European approach. This is a great opportunity for Europe to set an example of responsible innovation in cosmetics without any compromise on consumer safety,” Borg said in a statement.

Animal testing for cosmetics is prohibited in the union since March 2009 but the Commission extended the deadline to 11 March 2013 for the most complex tests, such as repeated-dose systemic toxicity, skin sensitisation, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics, the EU executive said.

Commission accused of sidelining science

Industry reacted furiously to the ban, saying it would “act as a brake on innovation” while doing little to improve animal welfare.

“The cosmetics industry is a flagship for Europe, which needs a strategy for growth and innovation,” said Cosmetics Europe, an industry group. “By implementing the ban at this time, the European Union is jeopardising the industry’s ability to innovate,” the group said in a statement.

Moreover, industry believes the Commission has ignored scientific knowledge gaps about the effects of cosmetics on human health, opting instead for a precautionary approach that is not rooted in science.

“The ban ignores the reality that science is not yet ready to bridge existing knowledge gaps and that non-animal alternatives cannot address all ingredient safety questions,” Cosmetics Europe said. This, it added, “runs contrary to its commitment to both a knowledge- and science-driven legislative approach”.

The EU executive acknowledged that “there will be some impacts” on the €70-billion European Cosmetics and Toiletries industry but that these “were difficult to quantify”.

“Overall, the Commission considers that the expected benefits for animal welfare and for innovative ways of carrying out human health assessment are likely to outweigh any negative impacts”.

For the Commission, the science is only part of the equation as it believes there are “overriding reasons” to carry out the ban anyway, such as public opinion.  “This is in line with what many European citizens believe firmly: that the development of cosmetics does not warrant animal testing”.

The Commission said it “will closely monitor the impacts on the industry in the coming years” and will continue to fund research into alternative testing methods.

The EU will now reach out to trading partners “to explain and promote the European model and to work towards the international acceptance of alternative methods,” the Commission said, adding it would make this an integral part of the EU’s agenda for trade and international cooperation.

"This is a good day for animal welfare! It took 20 years to ban animal testing in cosmetics completely. Now we finally did it!" said Dagmar Roth-Behrendt from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Parliament's rapporteur.

"However, the European Commission left a loophole in the system: it allows member states to decide whether results of tests on animals that have been carried out for other products can be used for cosmetics. If this followed pressure from the industry or the "wisdom" of their archaic legal service, I do not know. Anyway, this is wrong."

The Cosmetics Directive provides the regulatory framework for the phasing out of animal testing for cosmetics purposes.

It establishes a prohibition to test finished cosmetic products and cosmetic ingredients on animals (testing ban), and a prohibition to market in the EU finished cosmetic products and ingredients included in cosmetic products which were tested on animals for cosmetics purposes (marketing ban).

The same provisions are contained in the Cosmetics Regulation, which replaces the Cosmetics Directive as of 11 July 2013.

The testing ban on finished cosmetic products applies since 11 September 2004; the testing ban on ingredients or combination of ingredients applies since 11 March 2009.

The marketing ban applies since 11 March 2009 for all human health effects with the exception of repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics.

For these specific health effects the marketing ban applies since 11 March 2013, irrespective of the availability of alternative non-animal tests.

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