10/03/2013 17:42 GMT | Updated 10/05/2013 06:12 BST

Finally: European Union Goes Cruelty-Free With Cosmetics

From today, following 20 years of delays to implementation, the European Union finally is enforcing its ban on the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetic products and ingredients. In doing so, the EU becomes the largest cruelty-free cosmetics market, making its shops a no-go area for cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world.

Humane Society International and many animal protection organisations and advocates campaigned long and hard to see the EU ban come into force, despite fierce opposition over the years by vested interests within the cosmetics industry. But the resignation of former EU Health Commissioner John Dalli signalled a swift about-turn, as incoming Commissioner Tonio Borg confirmed he wanted to see the ban implemented in full.

The decision -- a milestone in our ongoing efforts to rid the world of unnecessary animal testing - also sends a powerful message to cosmetics companies around the world that currently test on animals: These products are not welcome in the EU.

So how will the global cosmetics industry respond? HSI is already finding out the answer to that question.

For the first time, HSI is seeing companies, cosmetics regulators and politicians talking about modernising national safety testing. In India and Korea, governments are considering HSI proposals for changes in the law; in Brazil we're in high-level discussions with regulatory experts about embracing alternative tests; in Russia we have co-financed the hands-on training of scientists so that they become familiar with the new non-animal tests that will ultimately replace animal tests in their laboratories.

Launched last year, our global Be Cruelty-Free campaign is active in all these countries -- and more. HSI partner The Humane Society of the United States spearheads the campaign in the United States.

We're working with companies and advocating legislative and regulatory reforms country by country, to change laws and transform practices to end outdated and inhumane animal testing for cosmetics, and to enable producers in those countries to access the market for cruelty-free cosmetics in the EU.

Although banned in Israel as well as across the EU, animal testing for cosmetics still takes place in many countries. In China, for example, animal testing is actually required by law. (Last year, Be Cruelty-Free supporter Ricky Gervais joined us in urging cruelty-free companies not to abandon their principles by selling their cosmetics in China.) In the U.S. and Canada, the law does not require animal testing, but neither is it prohibited, so many companies continue to drip cosmetic chemicals in rabbits' eyes and force feed them to mice in massive doses.

Subjecting sentient animals to pain and suffering, and ultimately death, for the sake of a new lip liner or blusher, is morally unjustifiable. An animal's life is worth more than a bottle of nail polish. The shame of it is that this suffering is completely unnecessary. Many thousands of cosmetic ingredients with histories of safe use are available, and they can continue to be used safely without new animal testing. By using combinations of existing ingredients, together with modern, non-animal test methods, all cosmetics companies could immediately abandon animal testing for good.

Switching to more advanced, non-animal techniques makes ethical, economic and, yes, scientific sense.

The rabbits, mice, rats and guinea pigs typically used in cosmetics tests can react very differently compared with humans exposed to the same chemicals. Therefore, tests carried out on these animals can never be relied on to guarantee consumer safety. By contrast, modern alternatives use the very latest scientific techniques, including computer simulations, high-speed robot technicians and human skin and cell assays using the likes of reconstituted human epidermis. These methods are not only more predictive of human responses but also produce faster and cheaper results.

In fact, the transition away from animal testing is already happening in pharmaceuticals and medical research. As animal tests get replaced by more reliable, cruelty-free procedures, investments in the development and manufacture of human-relevant methods will grow. The EU sales ban, like the EU cosmetics animal testing ban that preceded it, provides a vital legislative incentive for companies to invest in the alternatives revolution.

Even in China, where the law still requires new animal testing before products can be marketed, Chinese companies and officials are becoming aware of the scientific and business advantages of switching to non-animal methods, and we hope to build on their interest.

As companies play such a critical role, recently, HSI President and CEO Andrew Rowan joined with Mark Constantine, co-founder of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, in writing an open letter to the global cosmetics industry. The letter urges companies worldwide to use the EU sales ban as their opportunity to finally end animal testing. The power to end cosmetics cruelty lies with cosmetics companies, in the choices they make about how to test their formulations and where in the world to sell their products.

Through our Be Cruelty-Free campaign, we're helping companies choose a compassionate, cruelty-free path.

So while we celebrate the EU sales ban, HSI is committed to tackling the global challenges ahead and is leading the way to create the political will and consumer concern needed to bring about lasting change for animals. We are determined to achieve a world where no animal has to suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics. All of us - animals, consumers, companies and researchers - stand to benefit.

Find out more about HSI's Be Cruelty-Free campaign.