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UK & World

The ban on testing cosmetics on animals hangs in the balance


More than two decades ago, Great Britain became the first country to ban animal testing of cosmetic products. Then in 2013, the ban was extended to cosmetics ingredients and the sales ban was adopted under EU law at the time, meaning that companies wishing to bring new cosmetic products or ingredients to market could no longer use new test data on animals to demonstrate their safety.

This marketing ban was seen as the final nail in the coffin for animal testing of cosmetics, but regulators have since shamelessly attempted to revise the ban. Under the guise of the EU’s chemicals regulatory framework, authorities still require cosmetics ingredients to be tested on animals where there is potential for worker exposure during manufacturing processes. This means animals continue to die during tests on cosmetic ingredients commonly found in high street products such as anti-dandruff shampoo, perfume, sun cream, deodorant and body lotion.

Experimenters can force-feed rats shampoo ingredients for weeks or months, causing nausea, convulsions, weight loss, and death; dose pregnant rabbits with facial cream ingredients to see if their babies are deformed; or even allow these babies to be born, only for them to suffer the same fate as their mothers.

And it’s not just the EU chemicals regulation that is eroding the ban on cosmetics testing. Earlier this month, a High Court judge agreed with the UK government that it had acted lawfully in adopting the same policies as the EU after leaving the EU to bring the UK’s equivalent chemical rules into line with those of the EU. The trial also revealed that the Home Office had already issued licenses to test cosmetic ingredients on animals.

Although the judge ruled in favor of the government’s interpretation of chemicals and cosmetics regulations, he noted that this did not stop the UK from pursuing a policy banning cosmetics testing on animals.

It is noteworthy that in an apparent reversal the government issued statement announcing that it would not issue any new licenses for animal testing to assess worker safety for substances used exclusively as ingredients in cosmetics.

While this is welcome news, the government should not waste valuable time – and lives – hesitating to introduce a complete and immediate ban. All currently valid licenses that allow the testing of cosmetic ingredients on animals must be revoked immediately. A change in legislation is also needed to finally close the loophole it allows cosmetic ingredients that are also used in other products to be injected down the throats of sensitive rabbits, rats, and other animals.

As the government has pointed out, this is not a safety issue – there are many excellent methods for assessing the safety of cosmetics and their non-animal ingredients. Experts can now use advanced technology to predict how an ingredient or combination of ingredients will affect the human body or the effects they may have on the environment—results unmatched by tests on rats, rabbits, or fish.

The PETA USA Database of companies that have committed to using only animal-free methods, lists more than 6,200 brands, including Dove, Herbal Essences and Aveda. These companies have pledged to never conduct, order, pay for, or permit animal testing at any stage of ingredient or final product development. They must have agreements with their suppliers that ensure that the ingredients they buy have not been tested on animals.

The government is now considering the future of the cosmetic testing ban and the changes that may be needed to update the legal framework. PETA is urging people to contact their MPs and ask for a change in the law – safety assessments of cosmetic ingredients imported into, manufactured or sold in the UK should only be based on non-animal data.

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