Animal Tested Cosmetics: Is the End in Sight?

26/04/2012 21:57 BST | Updated 26/06/2012 10:12 BST

During World Week for Animals in Laboratories 2012, no one should need to write about cosmetics testing on animals. Sadly, what many people in this country consider to be a done deal is actually a fight that continues - not least because our own government is standing by while the progress made in ending animal tests for cosmetics is under threat of being rolled back.

Back in 1998, cosmetics tests on animals were ended in the UK in a long-overdue recognition of what the British public had understood for years: killing animals in tests for vanity products is morally reprehensible. The UK ban sidestepped years of dithering and delays in the European Union, where good intentions had constantly been thwarted by compromises and reversals.

Finally, in 2003, the European Parliament voted to ban all testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals by 2009 and - crucially - to end the sales of all cosmetics and toiletries containing ingredients tested on animals by March 2013.

That sales ban was a remarkable achievement for the campaigners and parliamentarians who had laboured for so long. It established that not just testing cosmetics on animals but profiting from that testing is wrong, and cosmetics companies worldwide knew that if they wanted to sell to the EU's 500 million consumers, they needed to take a hard look at their policies. The result was a boom in investment in non-animal testing methods and the acknowledgement that there are thousands of safe cosmetics ingredients that don't require testing. We've since seen major high street companies such as Marks & Spencer turn their backs completely on animal-tested ingredients for their cosmetics and toiletries and, even more excitingly, we've seen the complete replacement of some animal tests worldwide with superior, cheaper and more effective non-animal methods.

But now this good news story for science, animals and consumers has taken a dark twist. Under pressure from influential players in the cosmetics industry, the European Commission is considering postponing the 2013 deadline, perhaps indefinitely. Companies whose marketing relies on novel ingredients promising miracle results worry that without being able to use the animal tests that some regulators still expect for new ingredients, those ingredients will stay in the labs and their profits may suffer. Scandalously, their concerns have found sympathy in the corridors of Brussels, where alarmist rhetoric about the impact on business is swallowed rather more enthusiastically than are the shampoo ingredients being force-fed to pregnant rabbits in laboratories.

European Commissioner John Dalli is expected to announce his decision in the summer, but the deadline cannot be postponed unless the European Parliament and the individual countries of the EU agree. A number of EU countries have already declared support for the ban, but shockingly, the UK has refused to take a position.

Everyone knows that cosmetics testing on animals is wrong, and Europe's precedent-setting policy against it should be a point of pride for all of us. But in 2012, companies are still profiting from the blood of animals used in cosmetics tests, and it shouldn't take campaigners or the public to tell our politicians that the 2013 deadline to end that must not be postponed by a single day. Sadly though, until Commissioner Dalli and Vince Cable and his team at the Department of Business stand up for what is right, it looks like that's what we'll need to do.

See PETA'S action alert here