Bans in Europe raise questions

Campaigns from animal rights groups in Europe have gained public support against the use of animals for testing the safety of cosmetic products. In September 2004, the European Union officially prohibited the use of animals for testing finished cosmetic products. More recently, on 11 March 2009, two bans entered into force prohibiting any further testing on animals to assess the safety of ingredients, whether or not an alternative method is available, but tests measuring long-term toxic effects are temporarily exempted and will be phased out on 11 March 2013 only.

These bans have alerted the cosmetics industry in countries such as China and Japan, where animal tests are still the prevailing method to assess the safety of cosmetic products.

The European Union prohibits the sale of cosmetic products that contain ingredients tested on animals for the purpose of meeting the requirements of own legislation on cosmetics, wherever in the world the tests were performed. While this question is not entirely clear, it is likely that ingredients tested on animals in a non-EU country for meeting the requirements of this country would not be concerned by the ban and that manufacturers in these countries would still be allowed to export their products to the European Union.

However, while their products may still be legally imported into the European Union, China and Japan have understood it may not be sustainable from a marketing perspective. On the other hand, European companies exporting to China and Japan may have to conduct animal tests to get their products accepted by local authorities.

China seeks to reduce the number of tests on animals

The latest edition of China’s Hygiene Standards for Cosmetics effective on 1 July 2007 still requires using animals for tests of toxicity, such as acute oral toxicity test, acute dermal toxicity test, dermal irritation/corrosion test, acute eye irritation/corrosion test, skin sensitisation test, skin phototoxicity test, subchronic oral toxicity test, subchronic dermal toxicity test, teratogenicity test, and combined chronic toxicity/carcinogenicity test.

Alternative non-animal based tests are still in their preliminary stage of development in China. However, Chinese authorities are working to shift to alternative methods and have started to trigger a decrease in the use of animals based testing.

Japan reluctant to fund research on alternative methods

Japan’s law requires using animal tests to assess the safety of products classified as quasi-drugs, such as skin-lightening products, suntan lotion and hair growth tonics that can be advertised as medicinal, and companies are expected to carry out animal testing whenever they add or change ingredients.

In 2005, Japanese authorities created the Japanese Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Methods, but the project was lacking staff and funds. The secretariat for the Center is now under the responsibility of the National Institute of Health Sciences. But the country first needs to adopt a legal framework to officially aim at decreasing the number of tests performed on animals.