European Chemicals Agency ruling undercuts historic cosmetic animal testing ban

Humane Society International / Europe


The European Union’s precedent-setting ban on cosmetic animal testing and trade has been undermined from within by two recent decisions to require cosmetic ingredients to undergo new animal testing.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Board of Appeals recently upheld a decision by ECHA staff to require German chemical company Symrise to carry out several tests on vertebrate animals to fulfill ‘tick-box’ registration requirements under the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation.

The chemicals in question, homosalate and 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, are used exclusively as cosmetic ingredients in sunscreens. As such, the animal testing requirements of the REACH Regulation directly conflict with the animal testing ban under the Cosmetics Regulation.

To its credit, Symrise contested ECHA’s demands for multiple new animal tests – which together would subject several thousand animals and their offspring to suffering and death – arguing that such tests cannot be required for substances used exclusively as ingredients in cosmetic products. Further, one of the core tenets of REACH is to promote alternatives to animal testing for assessing chemical hazards.

On August 18, the ECHA Board of Appeals ruled against Symrise, citing that REACH does not contain an automatic exemption from new testing, even if a substance is used exclusively as an ingredient in cosmetics. This decision is the latest in a series of positions taken by ECHA which act at variance to the animal replacement mandate under REACH, and now also the celebrated ban on animal testing for cosmetics. The ruling also contradicts numerous calls by the European Parliament to ensure the EU ban is not weakened, including a motion passed on July 10th this year, stating specifically that animal testing bans set by the Cosmetics Regulation “must not be compromised by testing conducted under other legislation such as REACH”.

Once the global leader in the move away from animal testing – with the European Parliament in 2018 calling for an international ban on cosmetics testing and trade by 2023 – the actions of certain ECHA and Member State bureaucrats are increasingly eroding the EU’s reputation and leadership status in this area. By contrast, U.S. chemical authorities in the Environmental Protection Agency are being duly applauded for their efforts to replace vertebrate animal testing for chemicals, and EPA’s policy commitment to eliminating both requirements and funding for mammalian animal testing by 2035.

Humane Society International, a leading advocate for cruelty-free cosmetics laws and animal-free safety assessment worldwide, is calling for transformational change within ECHA that reflects its mandated focus on the promotion of alternatives, including actively minimising and progressively replacing animal testing with new human-relevant, non-animal scientific approaches. Without active leadership from ECHA, the EU’s ban – and the increased development of alternative testing methods seen as a result – will be seriously undermined.

HSI will continue to work will EU policymakers and relevant stakeholders to reverse the decisions by ECHA and its Board of Appeals, and to ensure the integrity of the EU’s hard-won ban on cosmetic animal testing remains strong.

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