EC unveil groundbreaking alternatives to live animal testing

By Louise Prance

- Last updated on GMT

Groundbreaking alternatives to live animal testing in cosmetics
have been unveiled by the scientific advisory committee of the
European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, set to
spare the lives of thousands of rabbits and mice.

According to European Union rules, animal testing in cosmetics must stop once alternative options have been introduced, a feat that may be completed by the end of the summer. The committee has announced five new 'in-vitro' tests that use human skin cells and waste tissue from slaughter houses to regulate the effects of chemicals in every day products such as cosmetics and washing up liquid. The tests were created by nine private and public companies from across the EU and the US over a three-year period. Evaluating the potential skin-irritancy of chemicals using in-vitro cell culture, the tests provide 'a realistic representation of the properties of human skin to identify irritant and non-irritant chemicals'. The EU legislation, Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH), requires manufacturers, importers, distributors and users who market or use chemicals to register them with a new regulator, based on extensive animal testing. The legislation, which was passed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on 18 December 2006, and will come into force on 1 June this year, sees more than 20,000 rabbits and 240,00 mice being subjected to rigorous laboratory tests, which have caused outrage from many animal welfare groups. In a bid to update this regulation to enable the production of more animal friendly cosmetics, the EU has stated that that the five tests, for skin irritants and eye irritants, could replace the law, which states all 30,000 chemicals under its radar must be tested for skin allergies using animals. However, the new tests have not been established solely for the purpose of animal welfare. Claims have been made that their scientific quality is in fact of higher regard than that of animal testing. Rabbit testing is said to be unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons, mainly because the results are based on a subjective matter, 'rather than a rigorous measurement of effect'. Likewise, the outcome of the tests is questionable, as rabbit skin does not always have the same reactionary effects as human skin. A full ban on the testing of animals for the skin and eye irritants is expected to take place following approval from all 27-member states. The medical advances are a significant step forward in the implementation of the directive that states all animal testing of cosmetics ingredients is to be banned by 2009 and will no doubt encourage the more conscious consumer to purchase cosmetic products.

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