A Sign of Progress: EU Bans Animal-tested Cosmetics

The EU has changed the law on animal testing. Testing on animals in this way is now illegal.


There is now a complete ban on the sale of cosmetics that have relied on animal testing. So for those who are worried about their cosmetics being cruelty-free or not, there is now no need to worry. There is no longer a need to look for cosmetic products which are labelled ‘free from animal testing’. The 27 EU countries have actually had a ban in place since 2009, but now the EU has extended this ban to trading partners as well. The ban therefore applies to all cosmetics, regardless of where they are tested in the world.

 The EU has changed the law on animal testing. Testing on animals in this way is now illegal.

The EU has changed the law on animal testing. Testing on animals in this way is now illegal.

The ban in 2009 never proved to be fully effective in putting a stop to animal testing anyway. Cosmetic companies were still testing on animals to see if their products were safe for humans in terms of toxicity. But even these tests now come under the new ban. The anti-vivisection (opposition to experiments on live animals) group BUAV and the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments said they have spent more then 20 years campaigning for such a ban. They have included high-profile celebrities in their campaigns, such as Paul McCartney and Morrissey. Finally, after all that hard work, effort and persistence, they have achieved their goal.

The anti-vivisection movement began in the mid 19th Century after scientists like Francoise Magendie (1793-1855) and his successor, Claude Bernard (1813-1978), performed surgery and dissection on live animals. The anti-vivisection movement had many sub-groups, based on the different justifications for animal welfare; so some anti-vivisectionists were feminists, some humanists, some religious (particularly the Quakers) and some just spiritually inclined. Famous 19th Century anti-vivisectionists included Anna Sewell, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain.

So clearly those concerned with animal welfare at the time were not hippies on the fringes of society, but intellectuals with a moral feeling that urged them to speak out against scientists cutting into live puppies. As Dickens said, “The necessity for these experiments I dispute. Man has no right to gratify an idle and purposeless curiosity through the practice of cruelty. The point about the unnecessary cruelty inflicted on animals would later be used by groups such as BUAV in their campaign against cosmetic testing on animals. Cosmetics are not necessary for human well-being. Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) founded the world’s first organisation to campaign against animal experiments in 1875, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, as well as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1898. Both organisations are active today, yet it has taken them, and other groups, a lot of effort to influence an official ban on animal testing for a trivial reason such as cosmetics.

However, although the EU ban is a win for the animal rights movement and a sign of great progress, BUAV still insists that it is not enough. They point out that many countries in the world still test on animals for cosmetic products and are urging for a world-wide ban. In terms of the arguments against animal cruelty and for the sake of consistency, a world-wide ban would be completely justified. But who knows when such a ban could go into effect – animal rights groups are campaigning all the time just to get their voices heard. To instigate a world-wide ban would require that many government officials reconsider their views on animals.

What is interesting, however, is the opposition to this recent ban. Cosmetic firms are concerned that the ban could put Europe at a competitive disadvantage in a global market. Cosmetics Europe chief Bertil Heerink was quoted as saying that, “by implementing the ban at this time, the European Union is jeopardising the industry’s ability to innovate”. It is clear then that the cosmetic industry’s interests are purely financial. This, of course, should come as no surprise. Still, it is  surprising that its representatives completely disregard the entire subject of animal cruelty and suffering, of which the industry is major contributor. For me personally, the opinion of Bertil Heerink is no different to that of a Southern American slave-owner in the 1800s claiming that Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves would jeopardise his business or the slave industry’s ability to innovate.

Mice are often used for new products in testing.

It is important for the cosmetics industry, and people in general, to understand why groups such as BUAV are calling for an international ban on animal testing. In cosmetics testing, it is mainly rabbits, mice and rats which are used. Peter Singer points out in his essay Do Animals Feel Pain? (1990) that it is a well-established fact in the scientific community that all mammals (which includes mice and rats) can feel pain. We know this from observations of behaviour (writhing, yelping, screaming, twitching, facial contortions and attempts to avoid the source of stimulus), as well as the fact that all mammals have a similar nervous system. Physiologically, humans and mice share the same physiological reactions to sources of pain, such as a rise in blood pressure, dilated pupils, perspiration and an increased heart rate. Although humans are more developed in thought and reasoning, feelings such as pain, stress and fear are very basic and are shared by non-humans and humans alike.

In light of these facts, anti-vivisection and anti-cruelty movements are justified in their campaigns. Cosmetic testing often involves applying toxic and irritant chemicals to the eyes, nose and mouth of the animals. Around 100 million animals are used each year for cosmetic testing, with over 1 million dying each year in the US alone. The chemicals used on animals often burns, irritates and deforms them. So with 100 million animals being tested in this way, a great deal of suffering and death becomes an obvious and depressing consequence of the cosmetics industry. Others who objected to the EU ban were worried that there would be no alternatives to animal testing. As it stands, cell and tissue culture methods are used as alternatives, as well as computer modelling and and medical imaging. In addition, the EU commission says it is working with the industry to develop more alternatives and that it has previously allocated £208 million for such research. My hope is that the EU ban on cosmetic animal testing will lead the way for other bans, especially in the food, sport and entertainment industries which rely on the suffering of millions of animals each year.


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