Is this the end for animal testing for cosmetics?
- Published: 05 July 2014
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A complete ban on animal testing of cosmetics and the marketing of cruel cosmetics came into effect in the European Union in March 2013. An Australian senator, Lee Rhiannon, seeks to introduce an identical ban in Australia – a move seen as controversial by the local cosmetics industry. Alison Waters investigates the issues and provides an overview of the global situation in regards to animal testing for cosmetics.
5 July 2014
Unimaginable pain and suffering is endured by half a million mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits for the global beauty industry each year. Their tiny bodies are poisoned and burned; they endure blindness and mutilation.
Rabbits are subjected to eye and skin irritation tests, in which chemicals are dripped into eyes and rubbed onto exposed and abraded skin.
Guinea pigs, a popular companion animal of young children, endure skin allergy testing.
Rodents are subjected to “acute oral toxicity” tests, where a substance is forced down his or her throat, and directly into their stomach, via a syringe.
“Lethal dose” tests are conducted by forcing the animal to swallow large amounts of a test chemical. As the name suggests, this test determines the dose that causes death.
Animals in laboratories are wholly at the mercy of the humans who use their bodies as testing implements. Rodents, rabbits and guinea pigs – small animals who are gentle and docile (the very characteristics that make them popular children’s companions) – are completely defenceless. Once their ‘usefulness’ as laboratory tools has ceased, they are killed by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation (without anaesthesia).
Momentum to end cruel cosmetics in Australia
In March, Greens senator Lee Rhiannon introduced into the Australian parliament a bill, End Cruel Cosmetics Bill 2014,which seeks to amend Part 3B of the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.
The bill prohibits the development, manufacture, sale, advertising, and importation of cosmetics – or ingredients for cosmetics – that have been tested on live animals. In effect, the bill prohibits the use of new animal-tested cosmetics in Australia six months after the bill becomes law. The proposed ban mirrors the test and sales bans introduced in the European Union (EU) in 2013.
Rhiannon tells The Scavenger that a ban is “simply the right thing to do”.
“The testing of animals for cosmetics and new cosmetic ingredients is cruel and unnecessary, with an estimated 500,000 animals around the world needlessly inflicted with horrendous pain and suffering in the name of cosmetics each year”, she says.
Around the time of the bill’s introduction, Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), initiated a national consultation on “phasing out the importation, manufacture, sale and advertising of cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients tested on animals”.
The consultation was first announced by Plibersek, then the health minister, as a pre-election commitment on the eve of the September 2013 federal election. Despite the ALP’s defeat at the election, Plibersek has maintained her commitment to a “comprehensive consultation with animal rights groups, industry, and scientific researchers”.
Alternatives to animals
Thousands of raw ingredients are deemed safe for human use and are already being used by cosmetics manufacturers. Furthermore, the safety of new product formulations that use these ‘safe’ ingredients can be established with the use of non-animal testing methods.
Hannah Stuart, Coordinator of the Be Cruelty-Free Australia campaign – a partnership between Humane Research Australia and Humane Society International – asserts that cosmetic testing of animals, first developed in the 1940s, lacks scientific credibility and reliability.
"[In contrast] modern 21st century science uses non-animal safety tests that focus on how chemicals affect human biology, rather than animals. That means the results are directly applicable to human consumers [with] no guesswork involved”, Stuart tells the Scavenger.
“And these state-of-the-art non-animal test methods are often faster and cheaper as well as being more relevant and humane. So it’s a win-win. There is a compelling consumer safety benefit in moving away from animal testing… Nobody could seriously argue that modern in vitro tests aren't superior to outdated tests on rats and mice”.
Most Australians believe that a ban on animal-tested cosmetics is warranted.
Significantly, 81% of respondents agree that Australia should follow the European Union by banning the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals.
Stuart believes that most consumers would be shocked to discover that many cosmetics for sale in Australia have been tested on animals overseas. She says that, potentially, up to several thousand animals may have endured suffering and death to produce one new cosmetic product.
“These animals go through unimaginable pain, having raw chemicals dripped in their eyes or syringed into their stomachs. It’s the beauty industry’s ugly secret”, explains Stuart. “Our Be Cruelty-Free Australia campaign wants to ban cosmetics cruelty from Australia’s labs and from our shop shelves. It's time for Australia to become the world’s next cruelty-free cosmetics zone."
Industry: ‘No one likes the idea of using animals in product safety testing’ but…
Accord Australasia Limited, the industry body that represents the makers and marketers of cosmetic products in Australia, states that “there is no animal testing of cosmetics presently occurring in Australia”.
Accord argues that the likelihood of animal testing occurring in the future in Australia “is so low that it barely warrants attention”, and claims that the Australian cosmetics industry “largely stopped animal testing on finished cosmetic products in the 1980s, long before the introduction of the EU phase out”.
According to the national body, the global industry has taken action to “eliminate needlessly cruel [animal] tests”.
When the complete ban came into effect in the European Union, Accord issued a statement, asserting that the “well-intentioned position” of EU officials would have “adverse implications for both innovation and global trade”, and likened the ban to “starting [a] car without firstly checking whether the tyres are in place”.
Accord was blunt in its condemnation: “The timing is wrong; the process needs to march in step with the science, not ahead of it”.
In light of these comments, it is unsurprising to discover that Accord regards Rhiannon’s bill as “fundamentally unnecessary”.
In a statement titled ‘Greens Animal Testing Bill – the need for any such laws remains highly questionable’, Accord argues that the industry has been “at the forefront of efforts to replace critical safety tests which rely on animals with scientifically-validated alternative test methods”.
However, there is a qualifier: “As a responsible industry, we have often cautioned that a process like this needs to march hand-in-hand with the science. No one likes the idea of animal testing. But equally, no one wants to compromise consumer safety”.
Interestingly, Accord was “yet to see” the bill at the time that this statement was released on its website.
Initially, Cosmetics Europe, the ‘voice’ of Europe’s cosmetic industry, argued that the EU ban would harm the industry. But, Stuart argues, those “alarmist claims” have proven to be “completely unfounded”.
“The EU remains the world's largest cosmetics market; it’s a vibrant, successful and competitive market, and entirely cruelty-free”, Stuart explains.
“In fact, many other countries around the world are seeing the EU as a great example for the global cosmetics industry.
“Furthermore, at the time of the sales ban, the EU Commissioner made it clear that the industry always, historically, called for more time, but that shouldn't stand in the way of progress. In fact, by introducing bans it was good for industry because it encouraged speedier innovation”.
Stuart asserts that there is an expanding global trend towards cruelty-free products.
“What is certain is that change is coming. The future is undoubtedly cruelty-free, so the question is: does the Australian industry become part of that change and benefit from it as the EU has done, or does it resist and have to adapt and play catch up eventually?”
Although it is widely believed that animal testing of cosmetics does not occur in Australia – and Accord claims that it doesn’t – the groups behind the Be Cruelty-Free Australia campaign insist that a test ban is the only way to ensure that “cosmetics cruelty” does not occur in Australian laboratories, both now and in the future.
Importantly, Rhiannon’s bill includes an import restriction.
“If we are going to ban cruel cosmetics in Australia, then we need to ban imported [animal-tested] cosmetics”, she tells The Scavenger.
Stuart says that in her discussions with Accord, the industry body indicated that it gives “in principle” support to an animal testing ban in Australia but that it expects change to be achieved through legislation that is “appropriate and effective”.
In addition to Europe, cosmetic testing bans have also been implemented in Israel and India.
The European Union, Norway and Israel have banned animal testing of cosmetics and the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics. India prohibits animal testing of cosmetics, and a draft notification to ban the import of animal-tested cosmetics has been introduced.
Earlier this year, the Brazilian state of São Paulo became the first jurisdiction in Latin America to ban animal testing of cosmetics. This is a significant move for Brazil, as São Paulo hosts over 700 of the nation’s 2,300 cosmetics companies, and Brazil is the third largest cosmetics market in the world. Furthermore, the use of animals for cosmetic testing – in cases where alternatives have already been established – will be prohibited in Brazil once a new bill comes into effect later this year.
In March, US Congressman Jim Moran introduced the Humane Cosmetics Act which seeks to make it unlawful for anyone to “conduct or commission” cosmetic animal testing in the US. The Act would prohibit the sale or transportation of cosmetics within the US if the final product or any component of the product was developed or manufactured using animal tests.
Be Cruelty-Free campaigners are hopeful that manufacturers will be motivated to abandon animal testing of their cosmetics and switch to cruelty-free manufacturing if they are faced with export restrictions into lucrative cosmetics markets world-wide.
China: a long road ahead
The Chinese cosmetics industry was worth $32 billion in 2012, and is largely dominated by foreign cosmetics companies.
In China, animal testing of cosmetics is required by law and it is estimated that more than 300,000 animals were subjected to cosmetics testing in 2012-2013.
Significantly, the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has taken a very small step in the right direction.
As of 30 June this year, animal testing is no longer mandatory for “non-special use” cosmetics produced in China for the domestic market. “Non-special use” cosmetics include hair care, skin care and make-up products.
In effect, the Chinese government no longer requires manufacturers of new “non-special use” cosmetics to provide samples for animal testing. Rather, manufacturers have the option of providing their own risk assessment of new products by using ingredient safety data that may include the results of validated and internationally recognised non-animal tests.
However, “non-special use” cosmetics imported into China are still required to undergo animal tests (including eye irritation and acute skin irritation testing), as are “special-use cosmetics”, such as, antiperspirants, sunscreens, hair dye and skin-whitening products.
The CFDA has indicated that it may consider removing mandatory animal testing requirements on some “special-use” and imported cosmetics once the new regime has been assessed.
Designating animal testing as “non-mandatory”, however, is a far cry from classifying it as unlawful. Moreover, the Chinese government conducts follow-up testing of cosmetic products that are already on shelves, and this may include animal tests. At the same time as pre-market regulation of domestic cosmetics is being simplified, authorities have indicated that they intend to increase the level of post-market testing.
Australia’s chance to be a cruelty-free cosmetics zone
Rhiannon is strongly committed to the End Cruel Cosmetics Bill 2014, and is heartened by the widespread community support for the end of cruel cosmetics in Australia.
Does she believe that the bill has the support of the Parliament?
“Given the substantial majority of Australians support the banning of cruel cosmetics, I suspect many individual [members of Parliament] would support our bill; however it remains [to be seen] if the Coalition or Labor [Party] supports the bill on the floor”, says Rhiannon.
It is unclear when the bill will be debated. Initially, Rhiannon had intended for the bill to be debated in the Senate prior to 1 July, when the make-up of the Senate changed. However, her team are still working on the bill.
On 1 July, a policy adviser told The Scavenger that the legislation is “very currently being negotiated, discussed and strategised with stakeholders”, and that they were “checking the lay of the land in the Senate”.
Stuart is hopeful that the end of cruel cosmetics in Australia is near.
“In this day and age it simply isn’t acceptable to test cosmetics on animals. Nobody needs a lipstick more than a rabbit needs [their] life, and that’s really the long and the short of it”.
Australians can show their support for the ban by writing to Senators and asking them to support the End Cruel Cosmetics Bill.
For more information about the campaign, go to Be Cruelty-Free Australia.