Animal testing: campaigners say EU court decision makes bans ‘meaningless’

By Julia Wray | Published: 27-Nov-2023

The General Court of the European Court of Justice is mandating cosmetics manufacturer Symrise conduct animal testing of sunscreen-only ingredients under REACH

Animal rights campaigners have slammed a recent decision by the General Court of the European Court of Justice, which they say makes the EU’s cosmetic testing bans ‘virtually meaningless’.   

On 22 November, the court ruled against German cosmetic ingredients manufacturer Symrise, which sought to overturn a decision mandating that it test two of its cosmetic-only ingredients on animals. 

The tests are to meet the requirements of the EU’s pan-industry chemicals safety regulation REACH and are needed in cases where there are no accepted non-animal options, as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) claims is the position in Symrise’s case.

The two ultraviolet (UV) light filters involved, homosalate and 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, are solely used as ingredients in sunscreens. 

According to Cruelty Free International, the toxicity testing required by ECHA will involve over 5,500 animals, including rats, rabbits and fish, being force-fed the ingredients in tests causing a high degree of suffering before being killed and dissected.

The issue is a long-running one, with Symrise initially being told in 2018 that the chemicals required testing on animals; its 2021 appeal against this decision was dismissed by ECHA’s Board of Appeal.

The German company then took its case to the General Court.

From Cruelty Free International's point of view, last week’s decision ‘sidesteps’ a provision in REACH, which says that the REACH testing requirements apply ‘without prejudice’ to the cosmetics bans, ie, that the cosmetics bans should take precedence, given they were introduced before REACH regulations came into effect.

“This decision is a huge backwards step in our fight to stop animals suffering and dying in the name of beauty,” said Dr Emma Grange, Cruelty Free International’s Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs.  

“The existing bans, which have been in place in the UK for 25 years and the European Union for two decades, are now virtually meaningless, as this case will set a damaging precedent in toxicity testing for cosmetics ingredients, even if they have been approved as safe for use for many years.”

Dr Julia Baines, science policy adviser for PETA UK, added: “The court’s ruling has succeeded in nothing more than unveiling the seedy underside of cosmetics testing in the EU by allowing a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise to take precedence over the purpose of the animal testing ban, which was to ensure that animals no longer suffered for the sake of a lipstick.

“We condemn the court’s unexpected ruling for effectively destroying the ban on animal testing for cosmetics in the EU.” 

She said that PETA is receiving legal advice and “will persist in its work to protect both animals and the right of European citizens to purchase cruelty-free cosmetics”. 

A Symrise spokesperson, meanwhile, told Cosmetics Business that it “acknowledges the decision from the European Court of Justice regarding the cases T-655/20 and T-656/20”.

“We appreciate that this brings clarity to the subject matter,” they added.

“It is a fundamentally important event for Symrise that the European Court of Justice has now decided on, which we of course respect. 

“Due to the complexity of the legal proceedings, we are currently unable to make any substantive statements. 

“We will now perform a deeper analysis of the verdict to determine potential further actions.”

A ban history

In the EU, a ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products on animals came into effect in September 2004.

A ban on animal testing of cosmetic ingredients in the EU came into effect in March 2009, at which point it became illegal to test cosmetic ingredients for that purpose on animals in Europe.

A marketing ban, to ensure that ingredients could not be tested anywhere in the world on animals to meet the requirements of the EU Cosmetics Regulation, came into effect 11 March 2013.

This means that no cosmetic ingredients can be used in the EU if they have been tested on animals anywhere in the world to meet the requirements of EU consumer cosmetics regulations.

However, to meet the requirements of REACH, which exists to ensure human health in the workplace and the environment, the collection of new data on cosmetic ingredients using animal tests may be mandated.

The UK government put in place a similar policy post-Brexit, but earlier this year banned giving licences for the animal testing of materials used exclusively as ingredients in cosmetic products following pressure from activists.

“The UK government recently revealed it won’t allow tests on animals for consumer safety assessment, and it also considers that no such testing should be conducted for workers or for environmental safety assessment, making it one of the strongest commitments ever made worldwide by a national authority,” noted PETA’s Baines.

“The progress in the UK flies in the face of the recent EU court judgement and sets the standard for other countries elsewhere.”

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