By Amanda Dafniotis and Chris O’Gorman.
The European Union’s market ban on animal-tested cosmetics may have come into effect last Monday, but many logistical questions remain regarding the importation of cosmetics from other countries, particularly China.
The two-decade-long effort to ban all animal testing in the EU reached its apparent end with the March 11 market ban, which will ensure no animal-tested ingredients are used in cosmetics sold in the EU.
There are concerns, however, that cosmetics imported into the EU may have been tested on animals in their country of origin and the newest ban may not completely guarantee the safety of the product.
The China Problem
China mandates all cosmetics be tested on animals before they are deemed safe for public use. The country also lobbied against the market ban, as well as previous bans under the Cosmetics Directive, which outlines rules on the composition, labeling and packaging of cosmetic products.
When asked how the market ban will affect trade relations between China and the EU, officials from China’s Belgian economic and commercial office did not respond for requests for comment.
Frédérick Warzee, a cosmetic scientist and spokesperson for DETIC, the Belgian cosmetics association, said he expects China will have to follow suit with the market ban and not test their cosmetics on animals if they want access to the European market.
“Marketing of Chinese products will not be allowed if testing on animals was conducted to comply with EU cosmetics legislation requirements,” he said.
However, this may not be the case.
Sabine Lecrenier, the head of cosmetics and medical devices unit at the health and consumers directorate general, a branch of the European Commission, said there may be some difficulties implementing the market ban.
“We cannot control what happens in other countries and cannot impose our regulatory standards on others,” she said. “A product from China can be tested on animals but once in the EU, we will make sure it passes a safety test using alternative methods before placing it on the EU market.”
This means, while countries outside the EU will be able to test their cosmetic products on animals, they will not be able to sell them on the European market until the safety of the product is re-tested using alternative testing methods.
Safety will not be compromised
These safety tests will likely be costly and it is not clear who will pay for them: the EU or the cosmetics companies.
The Commission will know if the prospective cosmetics contain animal-tested ingredients as all companies wishing to sell cosmetics on the European market will have to also submit a report documenting the testing methods used to ensure the safety of the product.
“We will not compromise on safety, so the ban means only that consumers in the EU will not benefit from future innovations available elsewhere in the world,” Warzee said. “The EU market will become less innovative and the EU would lose its leadership on safety assessment regulatory standards.”
The EU as a global example
As the market ban comes into full effect, it will be up to individual member states, not the European Commission, to ensure no animal-tested cosmetics end up on their shelves.
Some member states lack the sufficient resources and knowledge to implement the ban, according to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), an animal welfare group that lobbied in favour of the market ban.
The group said, while they hope the market ban is effective, if there is difficulty implementing it, other countries may not respect the ban as reason enough to change their domestic animal testing laws.
“We estimate that over 80% of the world still allows animal testing for cosmetics and some countries, notably China, require imported products to be tested on animals before they reach the market,” Sarah Kite, a press officer for BUAV said in an email. “In a global market it is important that all countries ban the practice to avoid animal testing simply being moved around the world to those countries with no effective laws.”
The Euro Group for Animals, a collective of 40 animal welfare organizations including BUAV, echoed the concern with China’s mandated animal testing laws.
“China is our big concern because the market in China is huge and we hope that by implementing this ban and by working with our international partners, we can gradually increase the number of countries that don’t accept animal testing in cosmetics,” said Martyn Griffiths, a press officer with the Euro Group for Animals. “We hope that will put pressure on the Chinese government to actaccordingly.”
“I don’t really care what China does.”
Dan Jørgensen, a Danish member of the European Parliament and president of the intergroup on animal welfare said, while China will not allow non-animal-tested cosmetics onto its shelves, this should not be a reason to rethink the ban.
“I don’t really care what China does,” he said. “Why don’t we allow child labour in Europe? They use it in India […] But we don’t want child labour in Europe, that’s why we ban it. The same goes for animal testing.”
Jørgensen also said he does not believe countries like China are significant markets for European cosmetics companies, while other industry experts say the Chinese market is integral for global cosmetics corporations.
“The Chinese need to prove that the products they want to sell to us, which I bet you is a lot larger quantity than what we want to sell to them, cannot use animal testing so they have to change, not us.”
Jumping on the ban-wagon
For fear of being left out of the European cosmetics market, some non-EU member states, such as Norway, have been forced to decide whether to follow the Cosmetics Directive in order to continue selling cosmetics in the EU.
In a statement released in April, 2011, the Norwegian consumer affairs sector said they would only accept the ban if consumer safety was upheld to the same standard as animal tests provided.
“The answer we have gotten from the experts is clearly in the negative. It will not be possible – neither by March 11, 2013 nor for many more years to come,” the statement said.
However, the Norwegian authorities recently reversed their decision.
“It is decided that the EU ban regarding animal testing and cosmetics will also come into effect March 11 in Norway. Thus we will have the same legislation on this issue as the EU,” Julie Tesdal Håland, an adviser and toxicologist with the Norwegian Safety Authority said in an email statement.
As of 2004, no cosmetics could be tested on animals in the EU under the Cosmetics Directive. By 2009, the directive included a ban on testing ingredients used in cosmetics on animals. The ban was upheld except in a few specific cases where the ingredients required testing for which no non-animal alternatives existed.
These exception tests were banned as of March 11. There are five tests in total consisting of: repeated dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity, skin sensitization, toxicokinetics, and carcinogenic testing.
As an example, repeated dose toxicity is a testing method wherein the animal is repeatedly fed or forced to inhale the ingredient or the ingredient in question is rubbed onto the animal’s shaved skin every day for 28 or 90 days, according to the BUAV. The animal is then killed to examine the effects of the ingredient.
These exception tests, however, will no longer be permitted with the implementation of the market ban.
The testing and marketing bans in the Cosmetics Directive apply even in cases where no alternative methods to animal testing are available, according to The European Commission’s official communication.
“This reflects a sector-specific political choice by the European Parliament and the Council,” the official Commission communication states.
Under previous EU chemical directives, some ingredients may still be tested on animals if their explicit purpose is not for cosmetic use.
“The data which is generated in other fields can be used to prove the safety of a cosmetic product,” Lecrenier said.
Saving animals, killing innovation
Warzee, spokesperson for DETIC, said the market ban will do little to aid animal welfare, and will instead just harm European cosmetics innovation.
While animal rights activists may be cheering, a grim economic reality may lie just beyond the horizon.
“These blunt bans ignore the scientific reality that basic science is not ready to provide the alternatives we need to answer all safety questions,” Warzee said. “The absence of alternatives to animal testing methods means that it will be difficult to develop new ingredients or new uses of existing ingredients specifically for the EU market.”