The UK government could be making a controversial move to lift the 23-year-old ban of animal testing for cosmetic ingredients. It was in 1998, under a Labour-led government, that used its own legislation to push the European Union (EU) for a total ban on animal testing for cosmetic products. This came to fruition in 2004 when the EU issued a testing ban on finalised cosmetic products. They later expanded this in 2009 to ban all testing of cosmetic ingredients on animals. Now this work seems to be under threat.
The Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit released a letter citing that it was in agreement with a European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) appeals’ board decision—made last year—which stated that some ingredients found in cosmetic products required necessary animal testing to ensure their safety. This letter comes just weeks after Priti Patel launched a review into animal testing in the UK, with the intention of eventually phasing it out. Not only does this letter from the Home Office conflict with its earlier statements this month, but the ECHA’s decision is obviously at odds with the EU’s current regulations which ban the practice.
In August 2020, the Board of Appeal at the ECHA upheld their rulings that Symrise—a German chemicals supplier—must practice animal testing on two main ingredients for safety regulations. The two ingredients in question—homosalate and ethylhexyl salicylate—are used across many beauty products but are more specifically designed for sunscreen formulations.
In the letter, which was first seen by Cruelty Free International (CFI) and the Guardian, the Home Office stated that it would “publicly clarify its position now with the formal publication of an updated policy and regulatory advice.” Doctor Katy Taylor, director of science and regulatory affairs at the CFI, told the Guardian that aligning itself with the ECHA 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.”
Director of public affairs at the CFI, Kerry Postlewhile, spoke to The Independent and stated that either a total ban should be enforced in cosmetics or that the government should “come clean with UK consumers…and tell them that its claims to have banned animal testing for cosmetics are now so compromised as to really be meaningless.”
In response to the criticisms the letter had gathered, a government spokesperson stated how there has been no change to any legislation on the matter as of now. The ban of animal testing on finished cosmetic products, not individual ingredients, is set to be kept in place. However many people have warned that this letter alone is an unsettling sign of diverting our policies even further from that of the EU.
Politico reported that the director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, Professor Anand Menon, stated that “The question of divergence from the EU rules is going to be crucial. The degree to which we decide to do regulations differently in key areas such as medicines or medical devices will be fundamental to our economic relationship with the European Union.” Head of the safety and environmental assurance centre of Unilever—Doctor Julia Fentem—shared similar concerns to the Guardian, citing that the UK’s plan is a “retrograde step” that would increase the already existing uncertainty of how to follow the EU’s cosmetic and chemical rules and legislations.