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EU Cosmetics Testing Ban: A New Era for Humane Research?

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We are celebrating today.

After 23 years of campaigning for an end to animal testing for cosmetics, the EU ban on the use of non-human animals in cosmetics testing has now come into full force. The testing ban on finished cosmetic products has been enacted since 2004, and the testing ban on ingredients has applied since 11 March 2009. Selling cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, even if they were manufactured outside the EU and imported, has also been banned in the EU since 2009 (marketing ban).

Three invasive animal tests (the repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetic tests) were exempted under the marketing ban to allow non-animal tests to be validated. In September 2011, a European Commission report concluded that validated alternative methods would not be available for these three tests, and experts concluded full replacement would not be possible by 2013. Nevertheless, the Commission decided it would not postpone the March 2013 deadline. The new Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, stated in November 2012 that full implementation of the animal testing ban for cosmetics was desirable in part to speed up the development of alternative methods.

The EU Cosmetics ban is interesting because of its potential to set a precedent for similar legislation. In the case of some potentially harmful cosmetics substances, the consequences are probably still unknown for repeated exposure, effects on sexual function and fertility, effects on the unborn, and the way some chemicals are absorbed, distributed, metabolised and excreted in the body. As no validated complete replacement methods have been developed for these three tests, it appears that EU policy makers seem willing to accept some risk, probably at low levels, to human consumers. The ban seems to be based more on ethical grounds (that is, the preference of EU citizens to use cosmetics that are not tested on animals), than on the state of development of the associated science.

If these reasons are considered sufficient for the cosmetics ban, why not honour EU citizens' common concern for animal welfare more widely? During the past 10-15 years, many EU regulations and directives have resulted from concern about animals, such as: the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty (followed by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty) recognising animals as sentient beings; the 1997 ban on 'veal crates' for calves; the 2007 import and export ban on cat and dog fur; the 2009 import ban on seal fur; the 2012 ban on 'battery cages' for laying hens; and the 2013 ban on 'gestation crates' for sows, to name but a few.

The same logic should apply to the use of animals in scientific testing, and research and for education purposes. More and more scientific evidence now questions the validity of the use of animals for these purposes. For a detailed review of this evidence, see 'The costs and benefits of animal experiments', Dr Andrew Knight (2011). Animal tests for cosmetics may have limited value in terms of efficacy and safety assessment for humans. Apart from the cruelty involved in using animals for these goals, limitations of 'animal models' may include, but are not limited to (N.B. The Vegan Society does not necessarily agree with nor endorses the content or conclusions of the links below):

- inadequate or inappropriate experimental study designs (including: animal differences; issues with sample size, grouping and treatment of 'test animals' and statistics; and impoverished laboratory environments, incorrect diets and other husbandry factors resulting in stress, distorted body parameters, and disease status. These may all lead to changes in test results.)
- inadequate reporting of biomedical research involving animals
- unrepresentative disease causation and development
- limited independent scrutiny and or oversight of procedures
- bias in representing and publishing results

Many of these problems interfere with reliable extrapolation of animal data to human predictions.

I have been involved in the field of alternatives to animal use for over ten years, including researching the development and use of humane alternatives to harmful animal use in tertiary education; reviewing reduction strategies, analysing the implementation of the 3Rs alternatives in toxicology papers, and developing the curriculum and content for a MSc course which included scientific animal use and alternatives. While I have seen progress made as an increasing number of scientists, regulators and policy makers understand the limitations of 'animal models' and see the potential of non-animal methods, the political will is not there yet to build on the Cosmetics Ban's potential and abolish all animal research and testing. An important reason may be that pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and similar establishments weighs heavily on the shoulders of our politicians.

I believe that a top-down policy approach, such as that used in the case of the cosmetics ban, could work for other areas of animal testing and research, and might actually speed up human medical progress. For too long, researchers have relied on the outdated 'animal model'. Toxicologists and regulators are finally starting to take the 3Rs, and in particular Replacement, seriously (e.g. A National Toxicology Program for the 21st Century and Hartung, 2011).

New non-animal methods are being embraced across research disciplines but often in addition to the use of live animals. However, promising technology and other developments rapidly evolve, and include effective human-based toxicology and medical research methods, which usually offer quicker and cheaper results than prolonged animal studies. A surge in true innovation could be expected following a blanket ban on the use of non-human animals for scientific purposes.

Let the Cosmetics Ban herald the beginning of new era of humane scientific development. We call on the Government and European Parliament to enable the funding of a major transition towards humane non-animal research and testing. Let's show Brussels that we care. For more information, go to http://www.eceae.org/en.