Ban on animal testing: Looming clash over deadline
By Ophélie Spanneut, Brian Beary and Sébastien Falletti | Wednesday 06 June 2012
The 2013 deadline for the ban on the use of animals in cosmetics testing is fast approaching. But the industry says it is not yet ready to meet the deadline because it does not have alternative methods. The European regulators are trying to find a way out.
In September 2011, the Commission said it would be impossible to develop substitution methods before 2013. What can be done? Each side has its own arguments: the industry wants the deadline to be extended, the NGOs want it to be maintained and kept to strictly, while the regulators are waiting for the impact studies to settle the issue. A day ahead of the meeting between the Commission and the industry on this controversial dossier,
Europoliticsis assessing the state of play in Europe and in the US where tests are authorised. The Cosmetics Directive (2003/15/EC) as revised in 2003 plans the gradual suppression of animal testing. The testing ban on finished cosmetic products has been in effect since 2003 and, since March 2009 it is forbidden to test ingredients on animals in Europe and to put on the market cosmetic products whose ingredients have been tested on animals. However, there is an exemption for tests linked to complex toxicological effects and toxicokinetics. From 11 March 2013, in other words a decade after its entry into force, the ban will be all-encompassing.
Cosmetics Europe, the European federation of cosmetics companies, stresses that the industry is worth 1.7 million direct and indirect jobs. It warns that the legislation would lead to a reduction and uniformisation of products in Europe, a decrease in profits and job cuts. The cosmetics industry stresses that out of the 12 million animals used for scientific purposes in Europe in 2008 – ie a year after the ban on testing ingredients – 1,510 animals were used to test cosmetics, which represents 0.0125%. Cosmetics Europe also points out that it is the premier financial contributor in terms of researching alternative methods.
The animal welfare NGO Humane Society International protests and recalls that cosmetics are not essential but rather luxury products. Emily McIvor suggests that manufacturers stop adding new ingredients. She adds that the industry has had enough time to prepare for the ban.
There are other issues that had been brought up as well. Thus France, in answer to the April 2011 consultation by the Commission, notes that in order to measure the impact of endocrine disruptors (EDCs - chemical substances that are liable to affect the hormone system), such as parabens, animal testing is necessary.
EXTENSION OR EXEMPTION
The Commission has been careful to state in its reports that it has not taken a decision and that the lack of complete solutions does not mean that the Commission will propose to extend the deadline. The Commission will make its decision based on the impact assessment, which will measure the impact of the 2013 deadline on animal wellbeing, on consumers, employment and the economic performance of the industry. In fact, the Commission should already have reached a decision and should have made a legislative proposal in 2011 if for technical reasons one or several of tests in question will not be developed or validated, as stipulated in the legislation.
In the annual progress report on alternative methods, presented at the European Parliament on 31 January, the Commission explained the conditions under which exemptions could be envisaged. The substance in question would need to offer customers a significant added value, for example a new preserving agent. These would not be applicable for ingredients that would just allow to reduce costs or to offer a new shade of lipstick. The industry is hoping for a legislative proposal by the end of this summer. A postponement does not seem possible in the mind of most members of the Committee on the Environment (ENVI). In the opinion of Humane Society International, the Commission’s credibility is at stake.
The lack of complete solutions does not mean that the Commission will propose to extend the deadline
Animal testing legal in US
Across the Atlantic, the looming March 2013 deadline is a big concern for cosmetics manufacturers because testing cosmetics and their ingredients on animals is still legal in the US. Given the major importance of the European market to them, the companies have been trying to develop alternative methods of testing - both due to consumer disquiet with animal testing and in response to the EU directive. According to Kate Willett, director of regulatory toxicology at Humane Society International, “we would like the EU to uphold the deadline whether or not the companies are able to meet it”. She notes that the industry is already close to finding alternatives in many areas, including for skin sensitivity, repeated-dose toxicity and acute toxicity. However, she admits that alternatives are further away from being found for tests that study products’ long-term impact on human health – for example the reproductive toxicity test. Nevertheless, Willett points out that “there are thousands of chemicals that are already on the market,” which are not tested on animals and which industry could use as alternatives.
While there is no US legislation in force on testing, there is a bill that Democrat Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) introduced in the House of Representatives in September 2011 that would have an impact on the issue. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 that Schakowsky has sponsored aims to protect the general public from adverse health effects of cosmetics products by requiring the US administration to establish safety standards. Even though her bill recommends using alternatives to animal testing where these exist, it does not require it. Thus, the net effect of the bill if it were enacted, according to HSI’s Willett, could actually be to increase the use of animal testing in the US given that the bill increases testing of products overall. However, Willett notes that the bill is unlikely to be approved any time soon in either the House or Senate as Republican lawmakers are strongly opposed. Meanwhile, there is continued frustration on all sides with the US government committee that is charged with validating alternative tests, ICCVAM, over how long it takes it to give the green light to alternatives.
As for the companies that would be most affected should the March 2013 deadline remain, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a US-based animal rights lobby, publishes regularly updated lists on its website of who does and does not test their products on animals. PETA’s list of those who do amounts to nearly 200 companies and includes such well-known brands as Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Estée Lauder and Gillette. And in terms of positive lists, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics has developed a cruelty-free standard via its ‘Leaping Bunny programme’, under which companies voluntarily pledge to refrain from testing on animals.
At an early stage in Asia
The fight for non-animal testing is still at an early stage in Asia, in particular in its biggest market, China. Until now, Chinese authorities have required cosmetics companies to test ingredients and products only on animals to the dismay of many Western NGOs. This iron rule forced many foreign brands, such as Estée Lauder, to actually conduct animal testing in order to have access to this fast-growing market although they pledged to be ‘cruelty free’ in the US or Europe. Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as “Chinese officials are in the final stages of approving the use of the country’s very first non-animal testing method for cosmetics ingredients,” said PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), on 8 May. This first step was welcomed by the NGO.
Some leading Asian cosmetics firms are looking ahead in order to be ready for the EU ban on animal testing. Amorepacific, the giant South Korean cosmetics firm, stopped conducting animal testing in 2008, the company told
Europolitics. “We believe stopping animal testing was the decision that was necessary,” said spokesperson Najung Lee.