Welcome to 2011, and welcome to a fresh fuelling of the irresolvable debate over use of animals in science, courtesy of a fully expected delay in phasing out animal use in cosmetics testing.
The European Union passed its Cosmetic Directive in 2003. Its aim, responding to political pressure from animal welfare lobbyists, is to ban animal testing in development of new cosmetics. The directive doesn’t intend for cosmetics to be sold without toxicity testing of course. Instead, the animal tests have to be replaced by non-animal alternatives. These alternative tests first have to be developed, and then validated by regulatory authorities in different countries, to ensure they really do predict toxicity in humans as claimed. That in itself is a long process.
Back in 2003, there was barely a handful of validated alternative tests, so the directive set deadlines for a step-wise phase-out. Acute toxicity tests, like skin reactions, had to phase out animal use within five years. Tests for long-term damage were given ten years.
The European Commission took scientific advice, so it knew that with an appropriate push (which it was prepared to finance) the first deadline could be made – and that there was not a cat-in-hell’s chance of the second deadline being reached. The scientific challenges of long-term toxicity were too complex.
Stretching the deadline would have diminished the directive’s political credibility, so a weasely clause was added allowing the possibility of renegotiating the randomly chosen 2013 deadline a year or two in advance.
So we shouldn’t be at all surprised to learn, in a New Year’s Eve article in the Guardian, a British newspaper, that the Commission is poised to start the process for invoking the clause, in order to push the deadline back four years. Animal welfare lobbyists still manage to sound surprised, though, and blame the cosmetics industry for the delay.
The only serious alternative to the delay, however, is to effectively ban new cosmetics. But the EU can’t go down that path.
Those opposed to animal use in toxicity testing might prefer to see the glass as half full, however. The cosmetics legislation has been remarkably effective in forcing the pace of development of alternative tests, thanks to the deadlines, met or not. The new validated alternative tests that have come through in the last half-dozen years are also being used in toxicity testing of chemicals outside of the cosmetics industry.