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Rabbits are still being used in skin irritancy tests for cosmetics
Rabbits are still being used in skin irritancy tests for cosmetics.

Cruel Cosmetics?

Concern over loopholes in European ban on animal-tested cosmetics

March 11th 2009 should mark a momentous day in the history of the anti-vivisection movement, but legal loopholes and Government indifference threaten to perpetuate the most gratuitous and extreme forms of animal cruelty. After a decades-long fight, two key Europe-wide measures to tackle animal testing are due to come into force as part of the EU's 'Cosmetics Directive':

  1. a ban on animal testing of cosmetics ingredients ('Cosmetics' has a wide legal definition here and includes toiletries)
  2. a ban on the sale of cosmetic products and ingredients tested on animals anywhere in the world for all but three test areas, regardless of the availability of alternative non-animal tests

The complete sales ban where no animal tests are allowed at all for cosmetics sold in the EU is due to kick in during 2013. It is widely believed that the bans, supposed to enforced irrespective of the availability of validated 'alternatives', has provided a serious incentive for companies to invest in non-animal, advanced testing methods.

The latest annual EU figures suggest that over 5,500 animals could be saved from poisoning tests for cosmetics in the EU alone, never mind the global impact as companies stop animal testing in order to continue access to European markets. However, the European Commission acknowledges more animals could have been used if tests are already being commissioned 'for other purposes'. This admission flags up one of the major loopholes that companies like Procter & Gamble are likely to try to exploit.

The worry is that companies will continue to use ingredients tested on animals in cosmetics by pretending the test was for another purpose such as 'household products' or 'pharmaceutical'. This would be particularly easy for companies who produce different types of products in addition to cosmetics, such as household cleaners and pharmaceuticals. Indeed, in a leaked internal memo, P&G discuss how they can get round the EU law.

But it's not just companies that are sticking two fingers up to the rule of law - meet the UK Government. An ongoing Uncaged investigation reveals that there are potentially serious weaknesses in the way the UK Government is implementing the EU law:

  • They are deceiving MPs and the public, and blocking the release of animal testing information relating to products on sale in the UK.
  • They require local councils' Trading Standards Departments (TSDs) to implement the law. But TSDs aren't and can't enforce this as they don't have sufficient resources and expertise. So we have a catch 22 situation where TSDs will investigate if there is evidence of wrongdoing, but it is impossible to obtain evidence as it is deemed confidential.


Under the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008 - the UK law which implements the EU law - cosmetics products manufacturers are obliged to collate information on animal testing in Product Information Packs (PIPs). These are to be made available to the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR), and local TSDs.

Initially, the Government gave the impression that animal testing information could be obtained by the public. On 25 May 2008, Gareth Thomas MP, Minister for State at BERR told Linda Gilroy MP:

'Anybody who is concerned that a product or its ingredients have been tested illegally on animals should speak to their local Trading Standards Department.'

Again, in October, minister Claire Ward told MPs that the PIPs:

'will contain information on any animal testing that has been carried out in the past. If hon. Members are contacted by constituents with concerns about such matters, they can refer them to their local trading standards department.'

After we'd pointed out to MPs that TSDs couldn't give that information, BERR Minister Gareth Thomas MP admitted:

'Although this information ["whether certain cosmetics products have at any stage been tested on animals"] may form part of the product information packages which all cosmetic suppliers must maintain and provide to Trading Standards Officers when requested to do so, the information provided is commercially sensitive and is not to be passed on to anyone outside the enforcement service. Anyone who wishes to find out the animal testing policies of a particular company should contact the company direct.'

Information about animal testing can easily be edited to remove any genuine commercial secrets, so the Government's decision to keep that information secret is perverse and contrary to the public interest. Moreover, as we are all well aware, Thomas' suggestion that people write to the companies is ludicrous as there is no obligation for companies to give truthful information about their animal testing and in fact companies who test on animals go out of their way to mislead consumers. Meanwhile, our survey of TSDs reveals their confusion and inability to enforce animal testing regulations.


Mike Hancock MP has tabled EDM 137 for us, which calls on the Government to implement the Cosmetics Directive and disclose the animal testing data. Please ask your MP to sign it by clicking here.

Uncaged Campaigns 10.03.09


Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.