Five years ago, the European Union took a major step in enforcing animal rights by banning the testing of any cosmetic product on animals within the 28-nation bloc. Now, the European Parliament has signalled that it wants to make that ban worldwide.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted overwhelmingly at the beginning of May (by a 620-14 vote, with 18 abstentions) to call for the EU to launch a diplomatic drive to ban cosmetic testing on animals worldwide by 2023.

The resolution is non-binding, and no such action will be immediate: Any initiative needs to first be considered by the European Council, the body that defines the EU’s political priorities, and the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.

MEPs and campaign groups are confident that a near-unanimous vote in favour of strengthening and widening the ban will result in a firm commitment by both, especially as a poll conducted by the European Union found that 89 percent of EU citizens want the European Union to do more to promote awareness on animal welfare issues.

Furthermore, the vote also reinforces the point, say MEPs, that alternatives to animal testing are better, more accurate, and cheaper (not to mention more ethical) and that cosmetics companies should now be considering making a move to becoming fully animal-friendly.

“A global ban will ensure cosmetics companies stop animal testing,” said Green Party Animals spokesperson Keith Taylor. “Although companies could do that now—and some have already stopped—we know from experience that laws are needed to push bigger companies to do the right thing. A global ban would mean there is no advantage for companies wanting to test on animals: They can all stop together.”

“A global ban will ensure cosmetics companies stop animal testing. Although companies could do that now—and some have already stopped—we know from experience that laws are needed to push bigger companies to do the right thing.”
Keith Taylor, Spokesperson, MEP, Green Party Animals

MEPs are calling on EU leaders, including the presidents of the European Parliament, Commission, and Council, to use their diplomatic networks to build a coalition and to launch an international convention within the UN framework to work toward a global ban on not just animal testing for cosmetics, but on the trade in cosmetic ingredients tested on animals, too.

The European Parliament says that while the EU ban has not prevented the cosmetics industry from “thriving”—it provides around 2 million jobs within Europe—it is aware that acting in relative isolation means that the ban can be undermined.

Currently, around 80 percent of countries worldwide still allow animal testing and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals, which means that it can be difficult to prevent banned products from entering the single market.

There are also loopholes in the EU system. For example, some companies are able to circumvent the ban: Cosmetics that are originally tested on animals outside Europe are being re-tested in the European Union using alternative methods and then placed on the EU market.

MEPs say that the lack of reliable data on cosmetics tested on animals and then imported into the European Union “remains a serious issue.”

Furthermore, most ingredients in cosmetic products are also used in pharmaceuticals, detergents, or foods, and may therefore have been tested on animals under different laws. Additionally, cosmetic testing on animals is permitted in the European Union if the testing is carried out to meet the obligations of other EU legislation, such as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.

Developments to reduce animal testing

Cosmetic testing on animals—even up to the point of causing death—is permitted in countries such as Japan, Russia, and the United States. In China, animal testing is actually a legal requirement for all imported cosmetics. In most others, there is often no specific ban, largely because animal testing may not be carried out there.
Animal rights advocacy group Cruelty Free International (CFI) estimates that over half a million animals—from rabbits to mice, rats, guinea pigs, and hamsters—are still used annually in cosmetics testing worldwide. But more countries are trying to prohibit the practice. According to Kerry Postlewhite, director of public affairs at CFI, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and Taiwan are all trying to pass legislation to outlaw cosmetic testing on animals.
The cosmetics industry is also trying to reduce animal testing, or cut it out altogether. Major brands like The Body Shop and Colgate-Palmolive do not use any animal testing whatsoever. Others are helping to cut the industry’s reliance on it. Last November, two alternatives to animal testing pioneered by cosmetics giant L’Ore´al’s were adopted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These are now available for all industries to use as alternative testing methods.
—Neil Hodge

Monitoring and enforcing the ban are also problematic, MEPs admit. It is up to national agencies, rather than a pan-EU agency, to check for possible violations of the ban and to prosecute companies and distributors for flouting the law. The appetite to do so, however, varies from country to country.

There is also the obvious question as to why cosmetics firms are singled out: Other industries also use animal testing. In January it emerged that car manufacturer Volkswagen—no stranger to bad publicity—had used monkeys to test their exposure to diesel exhaust fumes in a series of 2015 experiments. And last year an academic paper explained how monkeys were being used to help study gambling addiction in humans.

Evidence suggests that in some countries, the use of animal testing has increased—not decreased—and it would be fanciful to attribute that rise solely to cosmetic testing. For example, a recent analysis by two animal welfare groups—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)—found that the number of animal tests requested or required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jumped dramatically last year, from just a few dozen tests involving fewer than 7,000 animals in 2016, to more than 300 tests involving some 75,000 rats, rabbits, and other vertebrates. PETA says the cause of the increase isn’t clear.

As such, the campaign group supports the European Parliament’s desire to do more, both inside and outside the EU.

“Consumers around the world are increasingly demanding cruelty-free products, and it’s their purchasing power that has been the driving force behind the EU’s testing and marketing bans,” says Dr. Julia Baines, science policy adviser at PETA UK.

“Although a UN treaty can't guarantee a global ban on cruel tests, it’ll help strengthen the commitment to ending them everywhere and encourage China and the few other remaining countries that do mandate them to modernise and stop tormenting and killing animals for cosmetics,” she adds.TK