Yesterday evening MEPs adopted a resolution vote calling on the European Commission to actively phase out use of animals in experiments by defining milestones and targets to incentivise progress of non-animal, human-relevant alternative methods. Welcomed by animal welfare groups, Humane Society International said it presented a “historic opportunity” to shift the focus to “modern, cutting-edge, human relevant research” in the EU.
Whilst the vote was not legally binding, Humane Society International said it now placed “significant political pressure” on the European Commission to respond – usually necessary within three months of such a vote. Similarly, whilst the vote was not specific to one industry, for cosmetics it proved particularly timely given industry’s ongoing fight to protect its existing EU ban on animal testing, in place since 2013 with an earlier initial ban on testing for certain endpoints in place since 2009. Industry and NGOs had aligned last month to publish a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), spearheaded by Unilever and Natura &Co.
Cruelty-free cosmetics – Industry push to protect EU animal testing ban
Over the last year or so, alignment between beauty majors, ingredient suppliers, NGOs and trade associations had been seen elsewhere on the animal testing matter, with calls to protect the EU Cosmetics Regulation ban via open letters to EU agencies, joint public statements, campaigns and more. Much of the push stemmed from ‘conflict’ identified between the EU Cosmetics Regulation and ECHA’s chemicals regulation REACH, with calls for animal data to demonstrate worker safety and environmental endpoints under ECHA going against the Cosmetics Regulation blanket ban.
Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Troy Seidle, VP for research and toxicology at Humane Society International, said Parliament’s vote was important in the context of the wider fight against animal experiments, but also in the cosmetic industry’s fight to protect its existing EU ban.
“The European Parliament’s demand for an action plan to end the use of animals in testing and research adds political weight to calls from NGOs, companies, and already 200,000 EU citizens [via the ECI], for the Commission to be held accountable for enforcing the cosmetic animal testing bans as originally promised and preserving the EU’s status as the world’s largest cruelty-free beauty market,” Seidle said.
This parliamentary resolution vote and ECI, importantly, both recognised that the problem “goes far beyond the legal disconnect between REACH and the Cosmetics Regulation”, he said, instead cutting to the very centre of the issue – calling for human safety assessment and health research to be better “regulated and funded”.
'Systemic change' needed in wider EU policy on animal testing
More widely – beyond cosmetics – Seidle said the vote signalled the need for “systemic change” in the EU’s approach to safety science and health research.
Tilly Metz, chairwomen of the European Parliament’s Animals in Science Working Group of the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, agreed: “The European Parliament understands that the time is right for this action plan, because of the work that scientists have been doing to better understand the limitations of animal studies and the potential of non-animal models. There are no excuses to perpetuate the current level of reliance on animal experiments. It is clear that an ambitious phase-out plan, with clear milestones and achievable objectives, is the next step needed to start reducing significantly the use of animals in science.”
EU animal testing ban
While animals, largely mice, remain extensively used for medical research and testing – around 10 million every year in EU labs according to NGO estimates – the European Union implemented a ban on all animal testing for cosmetic products and cosmetics ingredients under its Cosmetics Regulation 1223/2009 in 2013. The move followed an initial ban on testing for certain endpoints in finished products in 2004 and ingredients in 2009.
However, under the European Chemicals Agency ECHA’s REACH regulation 1907/2006, certain aspects require or enable animal testing – notably testing for environmental endpoints like aquatic toxicity, testing for long-term worker safety, the first-time registration of some new chemical substances and registering of chemicals used in non-cosmetic products.