Ban on animal testing cosmetics: Is the EU on the right track?

Five years ago, Europe banned the sale of cosmetics tested on animals outside the EU. It’s time for our legislators to stick to their political choice, writes Stefan Eck.

Stefan Eck | Photo credit: Natalie Hill

By Stefan Eck

21 May 2018

Will Parliament vote in favour of a ban on animal testing cosmetics everywhere, creating momentum to overcome the industry’s resistance to existing alternative methods around the world? 

Against all odds, Left and Right in the European Parliament joined forces to urge EU leaders and governments to advocate for a worldwide ban - before 2023 - in all international forums and to use their diplomatic networks to build an international coalition and draft a UN convention against the testing of animals for cosmetics. 

MEPs also asked them to ensure the EU ban on animal testing in cosmetics is not weakened in any bilateral or multilateral trade agreements.


Some of the largest cosmetic companies are based in Europe, which can and must play a leading role. It cannot let down millions of European consumers that are increasingly aware of the unethical nature and extreme cruelty of animal testing.

According to a 2016 Eurobarometer survey, 90 per cent of participants agreed that it is important to establish high animal welfare standards that are recognised worldwide, while 89 per cent felt that the EU should do more to promote greater awareness of the importance of animal welfare at international level. In the last three to four years, public mobilisation against animal testing and vivisection has increased throughout Europe.

But are we on the right track? I’m not so sure. We should must avoid repeating the mistakes of the recent past. 

Five years ago, an EU ban on the sale of new cosmetics products and ingredients tested on animals outside the Union was agreed by legislators. However, those same legislators left behind loopholes and other legal shortcomings that have allowed companies to partially circumvent the ban.

There still is conflicting legislation within the EU that undermines the ban. The registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) - the EU chemical safety regulation - requires all chemicals used in Europe to be retested for safety by June 2018. 

While the guidelines ask organisations to use non-animal tests wherever possible, some of the chemicals used in cosmetics were tested on animals for REACH. Other countries outside the EU have also implemented bans but 80 per cent of the world still allows cosmetics to be tested on animals.

Nevertheless, the EU ban was an essential driver for the development of non-animal testing methods that are more reliable and cheaper than those using animals. More importantly, they are more relevant for humans. The 2013 ban has not impeded the development of the cosmetics sector in Europe, which remains the world’s largest market for cosmetics. Five years ago, Europe made a political choice; it should stick to it.

This is why MEPs are now asking the regulatory authorities to set up a monitoring system, open to independent audits, that ensures industry suppliers comply with a full ban. According to Humane Society International, approximately 100,000 to 200,000 animals - rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice - suffer and die just for cosmetics every year around the world.


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