By Dagmar Roth-Behrendt - 12th October 2012
A ban on animal testing will not constitute a loss to consumer safety
With thousands of products already available for use, animal testing is no longer necessary and a definitive ban is due for 2013, writes Dagmar Roth-Behrendt
Cosmetics are products which we use every day. Consumers rightly expect a body lotion, make-up or a shampoo to be safe. Therefore, safety and transparency have been the guidelines in the EU legislation on cosmetics since 1976. But, at the same time, cosmetic products were brought increasingly to the focus of public attention and criticism, because of the use of ethically unacceptable and torturous tests on animals in the development of cosmetics. Those animal tests were particularly unfortunate and have been abandoned as there has been no validation yet of whether the results of animal tests are transferrable to humans.
Whoever still believes today that animal tests would be both a necessary and publicly accepted part of production of new deodorants, shampoos or sunscreen should simply imagine the packaging of a cosmetic product bearing the label ‘tested on animals’. How many people would buy those products? Everybody can be assured that only the smallest minority of consumers would do so.
Accordingly, parliament put a special focus on cosmetic legislation since the discussions on the fifth (1989), sixth (1993) and seventh amendments (2003) to the cosmetic products directive. These amendments, for which I was the rapporteur, concentrated on three main aspects: the safety of cosmetics, the phasing out of animal testing and the transparency of the products.
The reports focused on the safety of products for consumers and, at the same time, on the phasing out of animal testing, intensively enhanced research on in vitro and other alternative scientific methods. Not only the cosmetic industry, but also other scientific bodies in the EU explored new testing techniques. This progressive prohibition of animal testing was introduced by the sixth amendment. For the first time the use of ingredients, or combinations of ingredients, tested on animals was envisaged to be prohibited for the production of cosmetics in the EU after 1 January 1998. However, the amendment also provided for the possibility to postpone this deadline in case no alternative to animal testing could be found until one year before the deadline. And indeed, in 1997, this deadline was changed to 30 June 2000.
Clear and transparent labelling of the product is the third aspect we in parliament have always focused on when dealing with cosmetics legislation. We made sure that the lifespan of products is clearly and comprehensibly displayed to consumers. With the open jar symbol they can now easily know how long after opening the product can still be used safely.
Eventually, I reached a huge success in February 2003 as the seventh amendment introduced a real phasing out on animal testing. Together with many engaged colleagues, I negotiated this crucial amendment, which also brought the ban of substances that could possibly lead to cancer, change the genetic material of a person or could have a negative impact on fertility. The final conciliation meeting in November 2002 was such a lively moment when at four in the morning, after 12 hours of negotiations, a compromise was eventually reached with council which was accepted by an overwhelming majority in plenary.
As a consequence of that legislation, no finished products tested on animals are admissible since September 2004. And no ingredients or combination of ingredients tested on animals have been allowed since March 2009. However, it was anticipated that looking for alternatives to animal testing would need more time for some remaining tests, such as those on substances which could have a negative impact on reproduction. A deadline of 11 March 2013 was therefore set up. On that date, animal testing of any kind will be definitively banned. That will not jeopardise consumer health in any way because more than 10,000 substances have already been tested and are now available for use in any combination wished.
A ban on animal testing will not constitute a loss to consumer safety.or competitiveness for the European industry either, as the EU legislation banning animal testing applies both for production and imports of cosmetic products. Nevertheless, some attempts have been made to lift the ban or to obtain another delay to comply with the directive, but all were declared inadmissible by the European Court of Justice. The final cutting date has been known for 10 years and I appreciate the commission’s commitment to meeting the target. I strongly reaffirm that 11 March 2013 should remain the deadline.
In order to protect public health and consumers, without the need for animal testing, and to be sure that every thinkable test can be done in vitro, further efforts should be made within the European partnership for alternative approaches to animal testing and within all the scientific bodies of the EU.
Dagmar Roth-Behrendt is a member of parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee