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Commission proposes banning animal testing for cosmetics in the EU

The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a directive which would amend current legislation in the Member States on testing cosmetics on animals. The amendment involves changing the marketing ban of products containing ingredients tested on animals after 1 July 2000 i...
The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a directive which would amend current legislation in the Member States on testing cosmetics on animals. The amendment involves changing the marketing ban of products containing ingredients tested on animals after 1 July 2000 into a full scale ban on animal testing of cosmetic products in the European Union (EU).

'This would serve the double objective of ensuring WTO compatibility of the EU scheme and provide a more effective way to protect animal welfare,' says the Commission.

'The issue of animal testing for cosmetic purposes is of key importance. On the one hand, animal testing of cosmetics is necessary to ensure that cosmetic products are safe for humans. On the other hand, animal rights groups claim that animals are tortured for the sake of unnecessary human vanity. A way out of this dilemma is the development of 'validated alternative methods to animal testing' which is promoted by the Commission.'

According to Commission estimates, 0.3% of the animals experimented on in the EU each year are used specifically to test the safety of cosmetics products and their ingredients. Such tests are mainly conducted to ensure products do not cause irritation to the eyes or skin, or long term effects. The animals used for these types of tests are not systematically vivisected. Most tests are done to provide data on products' toxicity - as required under other EU legislation on dangerous substances - or to assess the safety of pharmaceuticals or biocides (such as pesticides and herbicides).

The Commission claims to have already gone some way to reduce and replace the number of animals used in such tests, but now it wants to take more concrete action. The proposal calls for an immediate and definite testing ban for finished products in the EU and a definite testing ban for cosmetic ingredients three years after the implementation of the directive.

However, the 'Cosmetics Directive' might affect imported goods. In its current wording, the directive bans the marketing in the EU of cosmetic products containing ingredients tested on animals and therefore affects third country products. 'This would appear to raise certain difficulties in relation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO),' says the Commission.

Concerned that this might cause friction with trade partners, the Commission is now proposing modifying the ban to ensure WTO compatibility and to make it 'legally and practically enforceable'. To do this, the Commission is considering changing the proposed marketing ban to a ban on testing animals in the EU.

As soon as the Directive is formally adopted by the Member States and the European Parliament, there will be an immediate ban on the testing of finished products and a gradual ban will be implemented on the testing of ingredients.

The Commission outlines the proposal's main objectives as follows:

- a permanent and definite ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products on animals in the EU;

- a definite ban on the testing of cosmetic ingredients on animals in the EU three years after the date of implementation of the proposed directive. This date could be postponed for no longer than two years in the event of a lack of 'validated alternative methods ensuring a high level of protection to consumers'. Once cosmetic ingredients have been validated at EU level the proposal calls for mandatory use of alternative methods for testing;

- the EU will also aim to take the lead in international regulatory acceptance of alternative methods, 'in particular through bilateral agreements and negotiations at OECD level';

- to improve the information provided to the consumer, the Commission proposes to introduce a voluntary labelling system, in consultation with the Member States and in line with WTO rules. The labels would clearly state that animal testing has not been performed on a cosmetic product.

'This is a clear signal to industry,' says a Commission official. 'We are working very hard with the industry and we will continue our dialogue.'
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