Animal testing of cosmetics is an issue that arouses strong feelings. Consumer safety, animal welfare, international trade rules and the competitiveness of EU-based cosmetics companies are all involved. An initial EU directive in the 1990s to ban the sale of animal-tested cosmetics ingredients ran out of steam. Now a revised law has been passed laying down a timescale for outlawing animal tests for cosmetics in the EU. Thanks to the European Parliament it also bans sales of any animal-tested cosmetic products and ingredients, including those from outside the EU.
Products such as make-up, lipsticks, shower gels and shampoos all need to be tested for their effects on human health and safety, but experiments on animals are the target of growing criticism. According to animal welfare groups, around 38,000 animals each year are used in the EU to develop and test new cosmetic products and ingredients. Moreover, since 9,000 cosmetic ingredients have already been tested and are available to the industry, there are those who argue there is no pressing need to test new ingredients on animals.
The sale of cosmetics ingredients tested on animals was supposed to be banned under an EU directive by 1998 but the ban did not come into effect. The main reasons were the lack of alternative testing methods and the need to comply with World Trade Organisation rules, which prevent discrimination against products from outside the EU. In a fresh effort to tackle the issue, the Commission came up with a proposal to ban tests on animals but not the sale of products that have been tested on animals. The ban on testing was intended to cover finished products and ingredients.
Parliament argued that it was not enough to ban animal testing in Europe. MEPs believed that the earlier directive's plan to prohibit sales within the EU of products tested on animals anywhere in the world should also go ahead, as it would cover products tested in non-EU countries. This would ensure that such products could not be imported into Europe, that animal experiments were not shifted to non-EU countries and that European cosmetics companies were not at a disadvantage to those based outside the EU.
Clear cut-off dates for animal experiments
In subsequent negotiations between Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the two sides differed sharply over whether cut-off dates were needed. Ministers maintained that consumer health and safety needs were paramount and that no hard-and-fast deadlines should be laid down in case no alternative tests could be found. Parliament, however, pushed for clear cut-off dates by which testing and sales should be outlawed completely, seeing this as the best way of forcing the pace of development of alternative testing methods.
After hard bargaining, Parliament and Council finally agreed to outlaw animal tests for finished cosmetics products throughout the EU as of 2004. In addition, they agreed to phase in bans on tests of cosmetics ingredients that use animals and also - in order to make sure that imports are covered - on any sales in the EU of animal-tested products and ingredients. These phased bans will come in as and when alternative testing methods are found, with a final cut-off point of 2009.
Three types of test which are difficult to replace will have a stay of execution until 2013 but then sales of products using these tests will also be banned regardless of whether alternative tests have been found. The 2013 deadline may be extended but Parliament will have the final say on this when the time comes, under the co-decision procedure. New alternative testing methods will be validated by the EU but, to meet concerns about international trade rules, they must take account of developments at the OECD.
The legislation also introduces a ban on certain substances which are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to the human reproduction system. In addition, thanks to Parliament, labelling rules are improved, so that consumers know the storage life of cosmetics products and are aware of any potential allergic reactions.
Animal welfare groups had called for an even earlier ban on animal testing. But, given the tough resistance from the Council over cut-off dates, and indeed a recognition that the cosmetics industry needed time to adjust, the final outcome was regarded by MEPs as a huge step forward.