Animal rights campaigners have been stressing how unreliable animal testing is for almost as long, arguing that the biological make-up of the animals that we test on is just too far removed from humans to be justifiable.
More recent studies have shown that animal tests predict human reactions to cosmetics only 40-60% of the time, while alternatives can be 80% accurate.
And yet, the Humane Society International (HSI), which campaigns to end animal testing, believes that half a million animals are used for testing in the cosmetics industry every year! The vast majority of these animals are likely to be tested on in China, the only country in the world that has legal requirements for animal tests to be conducted on all finished cosmetic products that are entering the market.
The EU and animal testing
A total of 39 countries have banned animal testing for cosmetics, the majority of which are the EU member states. On the surface of things, the EU appears to be leaps and bounds ahead of the curve when it comes to stopping animal testing for cosmetics.
It banned animal testing on finished cosmetic products back in 2004 and went on to ban testing on the ingredients that make those products in 2009. And, in 2013, it went even further and banned the import and sale of any cosmetics that had been tested on animals abroad.
However, the EU’s chemical safety regulation known as REACH (The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and restriction of Chemicals), which finished its formal implementation period in June 2018, has rendered the ingredients-testing ban somewhat obsolete.
REACH regulation requires all chemicals used in the EU to be tested for safety. Under this programme, safety tests are funded and organised by the companies that use and sell the chemicals. All chemicals bought and sold over a tonne in weight in the EU need a REACH registration number.
Some cosmetic companies, mostly larger ones, have been actively involved in organising and funding safety testing research for REACH. Which, in some cases, has included commissioning new animal tests. Although the guidelines for these tests state that companies should avoid animal testing where possible, a significant amount of extra animal testing has been commissioned because of REACH.
Under REACH, businesses can buy the rights to use the safety testing data gathered by other companies, instead of being involved at the testing stage. This distances them from animal tests but, by licensing the REACH registration number, they are still financially contributing to the companies who have commissioned the tests.
Other companies are trying to stay as far away from REACH as possible, passing the burden onto their suppliers. By insisting that suppliers apply for, or purchase access to, a REACH registration number, companies can claim that they have not commissioned or financially supported any animal tests.
Although imperfect, this approach may currently be the most effective way for companies to distance themselves from animal testing in the EU.