Scientific report

In 2010, the European commission appointed a panel of scientific experts to report on the current status and future prospects of alternative methods to animal testing for cosmetics, and to provide realistic estimates of the time required for the development of alternative methods where not already existing.

This work was coordinated by theEuropean Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) and underwent a period of public consultation prior to its finalisation and publication in the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Toxicology.

According to the experts, considerable scientific challenges still have to be overcome before a full replacement of animal tests will be possible. Whereas substantial progress has been made over the past years, they predict that for toxicokinetics, repeated dose toxicity, carcinogenicity, skin sensitisation, and reproductive toxicity, alternative methods to fully replace animal tests will not be available by 2013.

More particularly:

- No specific timeline could be estimated in the areas of toxicokinetics, repeated dose toxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity due to the underlying scientific challenges.
- The timelines estimated for full replacement of animal tests in the area of skin sensitisation point to a further 7-9 years (i.e. 2017-2019).

Parliament and Council decision

This study [1] will be an important input for the Commission’s report to the Parliament and the Council expected in mid-2011, regarding the technical difficulties in complying with the ban on animal testing. Indeed, the European Commission must review the situation regarding the technical difficulties in extending the ban to the most complex tests, including skin sensitisation and carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics, for which the deadline was set to March 2013.

While full replacement is not yet accomplished or possible by 2013, the EU experts argue that there is a potential for partial replacement strategies. In the short to mid-term, providing a combined "toolbox" of well-defined test methods with established reliability and relevance for particular purposes, could support the development of integrated testing strategies. “While each of the methods alone may not be able to generate all required information, their combination might provide a sufficient basis for an integrated safety assessment withthe ultimate aim of completely replacing animal testing.

Anti-testing group disappointed

Animal testing opposition group, the BUAV, expressed extreme disappointment over the content of the final report by EU experts. The group said that delaying the ban will not speed up the development and acceptance of non-animal alternatives. “Rather, the pressure of a deadline has helped to speed up the development of new alternatives - thereby saving the lives of thousands of animals worldwide.