European Commission makes vague noises about tackling animal experiments while ignoring Irish and EU citizens’ opposition to cosmetics animal testing
The Irish Anti-Vivisection Society (IAVS) has criticised the European Commission response (25 July 2023) to the “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe Without Animal Testing” European citizens’ initiative (ECI – effectively an official EU petition) signed by 1.2 million European citizens from Ireland and the rest of the EU.
The IAVS summarises the Commission’s proposals as “a fundamentally weak plan that fails to match up to their rhetoric about eliminating animal testing”. Furthermore, the Commission refuses to enforce the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics in response to the ECI.
Despite the introduction of an EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics ingredients in 2009, animal tests for some cosmetics chemicals handled by industrial workers or which may be released into the environment are still being required under the EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation. Disturbingly, proposed updates to REACH indicate that animal testing for chemicals is set to surge over the coming years. Rather than waiting for the EU courts to resolve this issue in an ongoing case, citizens’ demands must be immediately addressed to prevent further animal suffering.
In the EU and Norway, a shocking 7.9 million animals suffered in laboratories in 2020 – among them rabbits, mice, cats, and dogs. Substances are forcibly administered down their throats, and they are infected with debilitating diseases, genetically manipulated, given brain damage through surgery, exposed to severe pain, and used in breeding programmes that perpetuate this cycle of suffering. Although the Commission is exploring actions that might accelerate the development and use of non-animal methods, they do not constitute the root-and-branch reform demanded by EU citizens via the ECI.
The ECI was launched in August 2021 by animal protection groups including the Irish Anti-Vivisection Society as part of the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, Cruelty Free Europe, Eurogroup for Animals, Humane Society International/Europe, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, with the backing of beauty brands The Body Shop and Dove. The ECI called for the strengthening and protection of the ban on animal testing for cosmetics, the transformation of chemicals regulations to bring an end to testing on animals, and a commitment to phasing out all testing on animals in Europe.
The Commission announced the following positive actions in their response to the ECI which, while necessary, are far from sufficient to achieve the stated goal of moving towards the elimination of animal testing:
- To develop a roadmap to end all mandated tests on animals for industrial chemicals, pesticides, biocides, and human and veterinary medicines
- To explore the creation of an expert scientific committee to provide advice on the development and uptake of non-animal approaches
- To propose an action of the European Research Area to coordinate national policies to replace the use of animals in laboratories and speed up development and implementation of non-animal methods
- To organise one or more workshops with experts to determine future priority areas of research to accelerate the transition to animal-free science
The IAVS together with fellow animal advocates and EU citizens will now expect that everyone involved works to ensure that the measures suggested by the Commission have maximum and meaningful impact, and we will continue to advocate for more concrete laws that reflect the urgent need to stop animal cruelty.
“The people of Europe have made it clear that experimentation on animals has no place in our modern society,” says Sabrina Engel, chair of the ECI organising committee. “While we welcome positive actions to replace the use of animals in experiments and chemicals tests, we wholly condemn the Commission for failing to end the suffering of thousands of animals used in cosmetics tests. The Commission must now propose meaningful changes to existing legislation and policies to set member states, regulators, and assessment bodies on the path to phasing out all uses of animals in laboratories. Therefore, we are calling on all actors to pursue the goals of the ECI.”
Dr Dan Lyons, policy expert for the Irish Anti-Vivisection Society, was scathing about the Commission’s reply:
"The European Commission’s response is fundamentally inadequate and an insult to their own citizens. It is part of a historic pattern of behaviour by many national governments and the EU which involves the pronouncement of vague animal protection sentiments instead of concrete action. In reality, the Commission is trying to give the public the impression that it is against animal cruelty, while avoiding doing anything that might upset the chemical corporations who routinely abuse animals to market their wares.
It is revealing that the Commission - rightly - supports legal targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but they lack the meaningful commitment to support legal targets to reduce animal cruelty in laboratories. In particular, the Commission’s support for the continued animal testing of cosmetics, contrary to their misleading spin, is an insight into their indifference to suffering nonhuman animals and the moral principles of EU voters. Such tests should not pass the ethical evaluation required by the Directive on animal testing. If there are doubts over the toxicity of a cosmetic chemical to workers or the environment, then the only acceptable approach would be to simply avoid the use of that chemical for such trivial purposes rather than poison thousands of innocent animals. The reason the Commission seeks to sacrifice animals is because their real priority is corporate self-interest and profit rather than doing the right thing ethically and democratically."
- Here is a briefing on the “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without Animal Testing” ECI.
- “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics” is the second ECI on the issue that has surpassed 1 million signatures, after “Stop Vivisection” in 2015, and only the ninth ECI that has been successful out of more than 100 that have been submitted.
- Across the EU and Norway, 7.9 million animals were used in experiments or for the breeding and maintenance of genetically altered animals in 2020. A further 10 million animals languish in cages without being used in procedures or are used as part of the laboratory supply chain, either for breeding or so that their body parts may be used in experiments.
- For the purposes of fulfilling REACH data requirements, it is estimated that 4.2 million animals have been used or are soon due to be used in systemic toxicity studies. (See Knight et al. 2023.)