Guest Article

Cruelty-free cosmetics: Are we getting closer to a global animal testing ban?

By Tjaša Grum, CE.way Regulatory Consultants

- Last updated on GMT

The EU already has an animal testing ban in place for cosmetic products and ingredients and in 2020, Colombia and Australia joined the growing list of countries worldwide adopting bans (Getty Images)
The EU already has an animal testing ban in place for cosmetic products and ingredients and in 2020, Colombia and Australia joined the growing list of countries worldwide adopting bans (Getty Images)

Related tags: Animal testing, Animal testing ban, Animal testing alternatives, cruelty free, Cosmetics, Cosmetic ingredient, Regulation, compliance

The list of countries with animal testing bans in place for cosmetics is growing, but how close is industry to reaching the EU Parliament’s goal of a blanket global ban by 2023?

Almost two years after the article Global ban on animal testing: where are we in 2019?​ was published, we take a look at how the situation around animal testing in the cosmetics industry has evolved.

The past year alone has provided many changes and challenges for the cosmetics industry, from Brexit to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the question remains: are we getting closer to a worldwide ban?

In 2018, the EU Parliament urged for a global ban on testing cosmetics on animals by 2023. We are approaching the deadline, and there is still much left to do, but with new countries enforcing animal testing bans for cosmetics every year, we are moving in the right direction. Even countries such as China, with a well-known history of mandatory animal testing, are making significant steps towards a cruelty-free future.

Cruelty-free cosmetics: Recent animal testing bans 

At the beginning of 2020, three states in the USA - California, Illinois, and Nevada - officially banned the sale of cosmetics and ingredients that have been tested on animals.

Colombia also approved the bill implementing an animal testing ban last year. Furthermore, on July 1 2020, an animal testing ban took effect in Australia, which applies to new ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics.

Many more countries are in the process of phasing out animal testing, including Japan, USA, Canada, Russia, Mexico and South Africa. In the USA, Maryland and Virginia may be the next two states to adopt the cruelty-free cosmetics law as they are both considering a bill that would prohibit the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics.

China cosmetic regulation reform, animal testing exemptions

China’s mandatory animal testing requirements have long been a major obstacle for cruelty-free cosmetics brands. But as many more countries have introduced animal testing bans, China has also started to align its cosmetics regulation with global cruelty-free practices.

It started with the removal of mandatory animal testing for domestic non-special use cosmetics, which was then also applied to cosmetics sold via CBEC (cross-border e-commerce). However, the biggest change was announced last year, when the competent authority for cosmetics, the National Medical Product Administration (NMPA), released a draft regulation​ introducing an animal testing exemption for all general cosmetics​. This means that all cosmetic products, with the exception of hair dyes, hair perming products, whitening products, sunscreen products, anti-hair loss products and cosmetics claiming new efficacy, can avoid animal testing.

Nonetheless, many challenges still lay ahead for many companies, as not all general cosmetics will be able to avoid animal testing in China. In order for general cosmetics to be exempted from animal testing, the companies need to provide Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification, which has to be issued by the cosmetic regulatory authority of the local government. This requirement is difficult to obtain since not many countries issue this kind of GMP certification.

In the EU, France has become the first country to allow French beauty companies to get a GMP certificate​, which is issued by French governmental regulatory department and as such complies with China’s requirements for animal testing exemption.

In addition to GMP certification, companies also have to provide the product safety risk assessment, showing that the product is safe.

EU cosmetics regulation - animal testing under REACH

In the 2019 article, I pointed out the issue around animal testing required under the EU Chemical regulations (REACH) and how that affects the animal testing ban under Cosmetics Regulation. The situation around this issue has since escalated with many organizations and beauty companies urging the EU to stop the undermining of the animal testing ban by REACH.

Following two ECHA Board of Appeal decisions, which requested animal data for two sunscreen ingredients, Cruelty Free International started a petition against all animal testing in the EU. They argued that REACH must not be an excuse to test cosmetics ingredients on animals.

At the end of 2020, EU’s animal protection groups, Cruelty Free International, PETA and over 450 cosmetics companies have joined together to urge EU officials to uphold the cosmetic animal testing ban​. In the open letter​ addressed to the European Commission, Parliament and Council, they called for new animal testing to be stopped and for ECHA to accept non-animal testing methods.

In the letter, it was emphasized that the EU animal testing ban had been used as a gold standard around the world. Furthermore, it was pointed out that the recent approach of ECHA is at odds with the EU Parliament’s call in 2018 for a worldwide ban on testing cosmetics on animals by 2023.

Recently, the European Court confirmed that under REACH legislation, animal testing must only be used as the last resort​. The case was brought to the EU Court after ECHA requested a company called Esso Raffinage conduct a developmental toxicity study on animals to provide more data. The company argued that animal testing could be avoided, and the evidence can be derived from other sources. ECHA denied this opinion. However, the Court has ruled that ECHA has a duty to consider alternatives and that animal testing must only ever be carried out as a last resort.

The UK post-Brexit animal testing position

On January 1 2021, the Brexit transition period ended and the UK officially left the EU. As part of this, the UK has adopted a new cosmetics regulation (Product Safety and Metrology etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, Schedule 34)​, which greatly mirrors the EU cosmetics regulation and the animal testing ban is no exception.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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