Will the UK follow the EU in enforcing animal tests on some cosmetic ingredients?

The Home Office admitted in a letter to Cruelty Free International that it had reconsidered its policy in rare cases where testing may be deemed necessary to meet the needs of chemicals regulations

The UK Home Office has admitted in a letter to animal protection organisation Cruelty Free International that it will allow animal testing on cosmetic-use only ingredients – a volte-face on the government’s position for over two decades.

Such tests could occur in rare instances if deemed necessary to meet the requirements of chemicals regulations, as opposed to the requirements of the new UK Cosmetic Regulation, under which animal testing and marketing bans are imposed.

The Home Office said in the letter that it decided to adopt an approach akin to the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Board of Appeal, which, in August 2020, made decisions regarding two appeals by German speciality chemicals company Symrise.

Symrise appealed against the ECHA’s original instruction to carry out animal tests on two substances, used solely in cosmetic products, to satisfy the needs of the EU’s pan-industry chemicals regulation REACH.

The Board of Appeal decided, against the wishes of Symrise, that the animal testing must be carried out to meet REACH requirements, arguing that the restrictions on animal testing under EU cosmetics laws do not prevent the need for REACH compliance.

Following Brexit, the UK now runs its own REACH system – called UK REACH – and Cruelty Free International noted that, because of this, the Home Office did not need to follow the Symrise case ruling.

In response to the Home Office letter, Dr Katy Taylor, Cruelty Free International’s Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, said: “This decision blows a hole in the UK’s longstanding leadership of no animal testing for cosmetics and makes a mockery of the country’s quest to be at the cutting edge of research and innovation, relying once again on cruel and unjustifiable tests that date back over half a century.

“The Government is saying that even ingredients used solely in cosmetics and with a history of safe use can be subjected to animal tests in the UK.

“These are not tests that cosmetics companies want or feel the need to do to ensure the safety of consumers or workers or of our environment.

“They have worked hard over decades to create and invest significantly in a range of next generation, animal-free safety assessment tools which can be used instead.”

Kerry Postlewhite, Cruelty Free International’s Director of Public Affairs, added: “The Government said that Brexit would be good news for animals. They have also claimed numerous times in statements and responses to questions in parliament that they remain committed to the UK’s domestic ban on animal testing in cosmetics.

“This was their chance to be better than the EU and to do the right thing by ensuring that cosmetics ingredients are not tested on animals in the UK or for the UK market.”

While cases such as the Symrise one are uncommon, the animal cost can be huge.

Speaking with Cosmetics Business in 2020, Julia Baines, Science Policy Advisor at PETA UK, said that PETA had been involved in five similar cases since October 2014, when a joint statement by ECHA and the European Commission on the interplay between REACH and the Cosmetics Regulation was published.

However, Baines estimated the animal death toll – including rats, rabbits and fish – at upwards of 10,000.

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