The ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetic products came into force in the 27 countries of the EU this March. The European Commission, committed as it is to supporting alternative methods for testing the toxicity and efficacy of cosmetic ingredients, is now trying to persuade other countries to adopt the European standards.
Although a petition to stop live animal testing, signed by four million people, was presented to the European Commission as far back as 1996, this recent decision is a direct result of a process that the EU launched in 2003 that allowed a period of 10 years for adaptation to the ban. European associations against animal abuse have celebrated the news as a major victory in defence of the dignity of animals.
Animal experimentation is the traditional way to verify whether a particular ingredient may be harmful to humans before its inclusion in a cosmetic formulation. The process for authorizing the use of an ingredient is to first test it in the laboratory (in vitro) and then with animals (in vivo), usually rats, guinea pigs and rabbits. Finally, if no problems are found with the product in these test phases, controlled testing is performed with human volunteers.
The ban was implemented in phases from 2003. For example, the use of ingredients imported from other countries that do allow animal experimentation (like the USA) was permitted up to a specific deadline. In 2009 the first general ban on using animals for testing was implemented, although an exception remained in place regarding testing for accumulated potentially cancerigenous toxicity.
The European Commission’s objective is to encourage the search for alternative methods, for which it earmarked some 238 million euros between 2007 and 2011. The cosmetics industry has also contributed by co-financing the SEURAT-1 research initiative with 25 million euros.
However, the European cosmetics industry fears that this new situation will leave it at a disadvantage with respect to American and Asian competitors not affected by the ban, given that the cost of well established animal tests are high but known, whereas alternative methods are still in the experimental stage.
These advances, however, may lead in the future to a ban on animal experiments in the research and development of new drugs, which remain unaffected by this recent ban.