It’s pretty much an age-old debate: animals being used in toxicity tests for perfumes and their ingredients. We’ve all seen the videos of rabbits and guinea pigs suffering, watched how angry activists raised their voices on the telly, know about the politicians who were trying to make a statement. It all resulted in a European law that came into force in 2013. The law implies that no cosmetic product nor ingredient that is tested on animals can be sold within the European Union. And more recently the European Court stated that it wants the European Union to introduce a set of new rules so that cosmetic companies will actually abide by this law. Does it mean that the fragrance market is moving towards a cruelty-free future?
In a pig’s eye
In today’s competitive market which holds many thousands of perfumes, companies will do anything to ensure their customer that the product their using is safe. Sometimes that involves animal testing, where companies use mammals to check if the product causes any illness or a painful allergic reaction. According to the 2016 database from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) over 250 cosmetics brands — including fragrance corporations like Coty Inc., Guerlain, BVLGARI, Esteé Lauder, Paco Rabanne and others — are still using animal tests, affecting over 27,000 animals each year according to the RSPCA.
What happens to the animals behind closed doors? Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice are often injected with perfume, it’s forced down their throat, sprayed in their eyes, rubbed onto their shaved skin and in other experiments pregnant rabbits are dosed with perfume ingredients to see whether their new-borns will be deformed.
In order to make an end to the suffering of these animals, The European Union, the world’s largest cosmetics market, introduced a law in 2013 that bans animal testing on all cosmetic products. Which means that both the fragrance and its ingredients can’t be tested on animals anywhere in the EU nor can it be sold. Now, about three years later, the law seems to have inspired many other countries to take action. “We are seeing that the ban implemented within the EU can potentially end the suffering and deaths of more animals around the world,” says Julia Baines, Science Policy Advisor at PETA UK. “Since the introduction of the law in 2013, testing cosmetics and fragrances on animals has been banned in Australia, India, Israel, Norway, New Zealand, and Turkey.”
Hold your horses
But not every country seems to be following in the footsteps of the European Union. Take China for example, the third-largest cosmetic market in the world, where animal testing is not only legal, but mandatory. This means that a fragrance created cruelty-free in Europe has to be tested on animals before it can end up on the shelves in China. The question then arises: how can the European Union guarantee that a fragrance is not tested on animals, when the same product requires an animal test for the market in China? Not to mention that animal testing is still legal in most countries, including The United States, another big player on the fragrance market.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the law that actually made an end to animal testing. It seems that the responsibility for the surveillance of the cosmetic market lies in the hands of the European member states. They have to request and check the product information files from all companies who produce for the European market. According to European Commission sources, the EU’s executive body, “This is a document which has to be kept for every cosmetic product placed on the market by the ‘responsible person’. Member States must entrust to their market surveillance authorities the necessary powers, resources and knowledge in order for those authorities to properly perform their tasks.”
And the punishment for violating this law is not something to fool around with. “Each EU member state can set its own penalties,” explains Julia Baines from PETA. “In the UK, for example, it is a criminal offence to violate the animal testing and marketing bans imposed by the EU Regulation, with a maximum penalty of up to 12 months in prison and a fine of £20,000 pounds.”
However, this penalty doesn’t seem to intimidate the big players on the fragrance market. “We are deeply concerned by new research uncovered by PETA US,” says Bains. “It suggests that at least nine leading cosmetic companies may be quietly breaking UK and European law by selling products that were tested on animals in China. PETA is demanding that the government investigates retailers – including Benefit, Bliss, Caudalie, Clarins, Clinique, Dior, Estée Lauder, Gucci and Revlon – for possible violations of the ban.”
One could then conclude that the European Union fails to filter out those fragrances tested on animals outside the EU, which eventually end up on the European market. Indeed, according to industry association Cosmetics Europe these companies ‘who break the rules’ are actually not doing anything wrong. ‘Some non EU countries still require animal testing of cosmetics under their own laws. Such products may still be sold in Europe,’ is what the law implies.
But on the 21st of September this year, the European Court of Justice send out a clear message on this matter: no cosmetic product tested on animals anywhere in the world can be sold or placed on the European Union market. Which means that the European Commission will now analyse the implications of the judgement in order to ensure full compliance with the judgement and harmonised implementation of the rules applicable to animal testing across the EU. So sooner or later all fragrances sold within the European Union will be free from animal testing.
Which means that the EU is setting the example to move towards a cruelty-free cosmetic future. Animal testing has already been addressed by many politicians and it has also become an overall wider consumer concern. An Ipsos MORI poll from 2014 demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of the British public opposes tests on animals for cosmetics and their ingredients – only 5 percent supports the use of animals for testing cosmetics.
And there has been great progress in the development of alternatives. Methods include micro dosing (where humans are given very low quantities of the product), EdiDerm (a three-dimensional human-skin which can be used as a human replacement for skin irritation tests), MRI scans and simulation models on the computer.
“These modern non-animal research methods – such as cell-based and computer-modelling techniques – are often faster and more accurate than archaic experiments on animals,” states Bains. “In light of the many economic, consumer safety, and animal welfare benefits that would accrue from discontinuing tests on animals for perfume and cosmetics, it is high time that we took this step.”