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Government opens door to expanded use of animal testing for cosmetic products

Gaelle Walker
11 August 2021

Animal testing on ingredients used solely in cosmetics could become widespread following an apparent U-turn in government position.

In a letter to animal protection organisation Cruelty Free International (CFI) the Home Office “admitted that it now allows most if not all animal testing for cosmetic ingredients – including those used solely in cosmetics.”

The move represented a total "volte-face" on the government’s position for over two decades, CFI said.

The opening of the door to expanding the use of animal testing to ingredients used in cosmetic products came about after the Home Office decided to adopt the approach of two decisions made in August 2020 by the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Board of Appeal on cosmetics testing and in particular the link between EU chemicals legislation, REACH, and its Cosmetics Regulation.

The appeals were brought by Symrise AG, a major producer of flavours and fragrances based in Germany, after ECHA had instructed it to carry out animal tests on two substances used solely in cosmetics products.

The Board of Appeal decided that, against the wishes of Symrise, the animal testing must be carried out to satisfy chemicals regulations, arguing that the restrictions on animal testing in Europe’s cosmetics laws did not prevent the need for REACH compliance.

Following EU withdrawal, the UK now runs its own REACH system “and the Home Office did not need to follow the ruling in Symrise,” CFI said.

Reacting to the Home Office letter, CFI director of science and regulatory affairs, Dr Katy Taylor, said: “This decision blows a hole in the UK’s longstanding leadership of no animal testing for cosmetics and makes a mockery of the country’s quest to be at the cutting edge of research and innovation, relying once again on cruel and unjustifiable tests that date back over half a century.

“The government is saying that even ingredients used solely in cosmetics, and with a history of safe use, can be subjected to animal tests in the UK.

“These are not tests that cosmetics companies want or feel the need to do to ensure the safety of consumers or workers or of our environment.

“They have worked hard over decades to create and invest significantly in a range of next generation, animal-free safety assessment tools which can be used instead.”

CFI director of public affairs Kerry Postlewhite, added: “The government said that Brexit would be good news for animals.

“This was its chance to be better than the EU and to do the right thing by ensuring that cosmetics ingredients are not tested on animals in the UK or for the UK market.

“We know that this is not what UK companies, citizens and consumers expect either. In a 2016, government-commissioned survey, 91% of the British public said that animal testing should not be permitted for cosmetic purposes.

“This was confirmed last year when a survey found that 84% would not buy a cosmetics product if they knew it, or one of its ingredients, has been tested on animals.”

This decision by the government means that even for ingredients only used in cosmetics, animal testing may be required in the UK.”

ACI is currently running a Target Zero petition calling on the government to phase out animal experiments. It currently has just under 30,000 signatures.

Earlier this month the government responded to the petition saying that it “actively supports and funds the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research.”

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