On 11 March 2013, a complete ban on the sale of cosmetics products tested on animals came into force in the European Union. The move, heralded by animal rights campaigners Cruelty Free International as “truly a historic event”, will see the end of EU sales of cosmetics products tested on animals, whether abroad or within the EU. But while these activists celebrated the “culmination of over 20 years of campaigning”, cosmetics companies and trade associations have attacked the ban, warning that it will stifle innovation and harm the EU cosmetics industry in a competitive global market. While the ban is clearly a victory for animal rights campaigners across Europe, will it prove disastrous for the cosmetics industry?
The recent ban is the final step in phasing out animal testing after an initial 2004 ruling. Prior to the last month’s implementation, the ban only covered products which had been tested within the EU, enabling the exploitation of overseas animal testing facilities by cosmetics giants such as L’Occitane. Now, however, companies must find alternative methods of testing ingredients and finished products if they wish to sell within the EU. This has sparked concerns that the EU cosmetics industry will find it difficult to compete in a global market; 80% of the world still allows cosmetics animal testing, and currently need not invest in finding suitable alternatives.
However, these issues may well be addressed should other countries take note of the EU developments, and initiate their own animal testing bans. Research published in The Metro online reveals that the majority of consumers in the US, Canada and South Korea are opposed to cosmetics testing on animals. But do consumers hold the power? Are other countries truly starting to follow the EU’s lead? Wendy Higgins, Communications Director at Humane Society International, claims that “India will likely be the next significant market where animal testing on cosmetics is banned”, after India’s Drug Controller General issued a directive calling for the swift abolishment of remaining animal tests in the country. Steps are also being taken elsewhere; in January of this year Israel’s ban on the import and sale of animal-tested cosmetics came into force. Last month, Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido Co. announced that it will abolish animal testing – whether carried out in domestic laboratories or overseas – for all products it develops from April of this year. With companies across the globe following Europe’s lead, need cosmetics groups be concerned about a competitive disadvantage after the ban?
A main concern for the EU cosmetics industry, currently worth over £50 billion, is the development of alternative testing methods. Trade association Cosmetics Europe asserts that the ban is “jeopardising the industry’s ability to innovate”, as it “ignores the reality that science is not yet ready to bridge existing knowledge gaps and that non-animal alternatives cannot address all ingredient safety questions”. There is some disparity in opinion regarding the effectiveness of alternative techniques. While some claim that synthetic skin can never perfectly replicate human skin, others maintain that animal skin is even less accurate. However, arguments that using synthetic skin cannot provide any assessment of the effect of products on the bloodstream or immune system seem significant.
Despite these concerns, there are a number of companies which for many years have been able to innovate without the use of animal testing. Well-known high-street chain The Body Shop have been committed to preventing animal suffering since their inception, and generated £66.6 million in profits last year. Other companies which have received the ‘Leaping Bunny Logo’, a stamp of approval from animal rights campaigners British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), include Burt’s Bees, Superdrug’s own brand cosmetics, Marks and Spencer, Urban Decay and many more. If these companies can compete and innovate successfully, employing only cruelty-free methods of testing, concerns about “harm” to the cosmetics industry appear exaggerated.
It remains to be seen how the ban will affect the EU cosmetics market. However, as a number of countries and individual companies turn their attention to implementing their own prohibitions, it seems that the EU is not alone in its aims. As more companies turn to cruelty-free alternatives, concerns over international competitiveness should diminish. The EU has taken a decisive step, and others are starting to follow. While alternative methods are still maturing, a variety of companies have shown that such techniques are not only viable but successful. Welcoming the ban is a vital move towards preventing animal suffering across the world: for an industry in which appearances are everything, we should herald the abolishment of the ugly truth.