A European Citizens Initiative (ECI) to strengthen and protect the European Union’s ban on the animal testing of cosmetics has progressed with a hearing at the European Parliament.
The ‘Save Cruelty-Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing’ initiative was launched at the start of August 2021 by Cruelty Free Europe, Eurogroup for Animals, the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, Humane Society International/Europe and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
An ECI is a formal initiative to officially raise global issues with the European Parliament.
In January, the organisers confirmed they had amassed 1.2 million signatures by the August 2022 deadline, surpassing the 1 million signatures required to present the issue to members of the European Commission.
After an initial meeting between the ECI organisers and the European Commission, a parliamentary hearing was held by the Committees of the European Parliament on 25 May.
The hearing raised the ECI’s three objectives:
- Protect and strengthen the cosmetics animal testing ban: initiate legislative change to achieve consumer, worker and environmental protection for all cosmetics ingredients without testing on animals for any purpose at any time;
- Transform EU chemicals regulation: ensure human health and the environment are protected by managing chemicals without the addition of new animal testing requirements;
- Modernise science in the EU: commit to a legislative proposal, plotting a roadmap to phase-out all animal testing in the EU, before the end of the current legislative term.
During the hearing, the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs – the EC’s department for growth – committed to “try to be as ambitious as we can possibly be” in reaching their “ultimate goal of phasing out animal testing in the long term”.
Carmen Laplaza Santos from the EC’s Health Innovations & Ecosystems unit, meanwhile, promised the Commission’s final and detailed response to the initiative by the end of July.
“We are confident that the EP will help to break the cycle of harms that come with animal experimentation, by supporting once again the end of all animal testing for cosmetics, no additional animal tests for safety assessments, and a roadmap to accelerate the transition to non-animal research, regulatory testing and education,” added Sabrina Engel, Chair of the organising committee for the ECI.
Julia Fentem, Head of Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC), who appeared in front of the European Parliament on Friday, added: “As part of our long term work to advocate for the use of cutting edge, non-animal science, and our work to pioneer the use of these methodologies for the design of safe and sustainable products, Unilever has been a strong supporter of this European Citizens' Initiative and its ambition to end animal testing.
“We hope that the clear wishes of EU citizens for safe chemicals and consumer products without animal testing will now be translated into changes in regulations, so they are based on using modern animal-free science.”
Europe’s testing landscape
The ‘Save Cruelty-Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing’ initiative was launched to address an EU worker and environmental protection legislation for chemicals, under which the testing of cosmetic ingredients is, on rare occasions, required.
In the EU, a ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products on animals came into effect in September 2004.
A ban on animal testing of cosmetic ingredients in the EU came into effect in March 2009, at which point it became illegal to test cosmetic ingredients for that purpose on animals in Europe.
A marketing ban, to ensure that ingredients could not be tested anywhere in the world on animals to meet the requirements of the EU Cosmetics Regulation, came into effect 11 March 2013.
This means that no cosmetic ingredients can be used in the EU if they have been tested on animals anywhere in the world to meet the requirements of EU consumer cosmetics regulations.
However, to meet the requirements of the EU’s chemicals regulation REACH, which exists to ensure human health in the workplace and the environment, the collection of new data on cosmetic ingredients using animal tests may be mandated.
Change in the UK
The EU hearing comes shortly after a u-turn by the UK government, which saw it ban licences for the animal testing of materials used exclusively as ingredients in cosmetic products.
Post Brexit, the UK has followed its own version of REACH, called UK REACH, adopting the same testing policy approach as the EU since 2019.
Following pressure from Cruelty Free International (CFI) – including a recent court case during which the Home Office was told by a High Court judge that following the EU system should not prevent the UK having a policy prohibiting cosmetics testing on animals – the Home Secretary Suella Braverman confirmed: “No new licences will be granted for animal testing of chemicals that are exclusively intended to be used as ingredients in cosmetics products.”
A statement from CFI called the decision “a welcome first step”, but further noted that “ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics amount to only about 20% of the total number of chemicals used in cosmetics”, calling for a reinstatement of the “full ban”.