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The government must ensure that animal testing of cosmetics is banned for good

(Alamy)

3 min read

This is a subject of considerable public interest involving considerations of both human safety and of animal welfare.

The safety of chemicals used by humans is subject to regulations under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulations), which was introduced in the European Union in 2006 to harmonize rules relating to the safety of chemicals made and sold in Europe. REACH may involve animal testing, which in the United Kingdom is ultimately licenced under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). A court ruling this month has highlighted a nuanced but ambiguous situation with regard to the legal control of cosmetics testing on animals because of the overlap of REACH and ASPA.

From 1998, UK policy was that applications for licences under ASPA for animal testing of cosmetics or their ingredients, which are “wholly or primarily used in such products” would be refused. This policy continued and indeed helped stimulate progressive changes in EU legislation resulting in a ban on animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients.

Is it not time to revert to the original policy from 1998?

However, questions were subsequently raised in the EU with regard to how the EU cosmetics regulations interacted with EU REACH regulations. An EU statement in 2014 allowed that testing on animals of substances which had various uses, including in cosmetics, could be permitted under REACH regulations in order to assess the risk to workers involved in the manufacture or production of such an ingredient. At that time, the UK policy was strongly against animal testing for any reason for cosmetics, but at the end of 2018 concerns were raised at EU level about the UK’s position and the UK changed its policy accordingly so that licences to carry out animal experimentation as required by REACH would be considered under ASPA and could in principle be granted. Since early 2019, such licences have occasionally been granted. This is ironic in that it was after the Brexit referendum and within months of us leaving the EU.

Given that the UK has now left the EU and is currently considering the revision of its retained REACH regulations to create suitable UK REACH regulations, is it not time to revert to the original policy from 1998?

Moreover, many cosmetics firms have voluntarily dispensed with animal testing. Indeed, Julia Fentem, the head of the Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre at Unilever, told the BBC that such tests under REACH are “unnecessary” and could be done without animal involvement.

Following the May 2023 court verdict, the Home Office released a statement saying: “It remains unlawful to test cosmetic products, or their ingredients, on animals to meet the regulations required to place them on the market. The marketing of cosmetic products or ingredients tested on animals is also banned.” This seems to be contradicted by their issue of licences since 2019, unless one is aware of the REACH exemptions.

This situation raises important questions. One of which being, is there any evidence that human health was harmed by the UK policy followed from 1998 up to 2019? If not, is it not time to recognise this fact? Secondly, the exemption under REACH regulations seems to specifically assign greater importance to the safety of those involved in the manufacture of certain substances than of those who use them. Conversely, if there are means of assessing safety for the consumer without animal testing, as increasing scientific evidence suggests, why can this not apply to those in manufacture – particularly when they can be specifically protected?

Certainly, it is time to carefully consider the issues of cosmetics and animal testing, and to unequivocally clarify and justify what is and is not permitted.

 

Lord Trees, crossbench peer

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