The EU’s decision to ban cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals is the latest development in the animal rights’ debate.

The European Cosmetic and Toiletries industry – which is worth more than 70 billion euro – will now have to follow new guidelines in regard of animal testing. Experiments like skin and eye irritation tests, and “lethal dose” tests, had usually been performed on mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs, in order to test various cosmetic products.

Awareness of the issue rose in the 1980s and 1990s, when people started pressuring governments in Europe to stop animal testing and organisations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and ECEAE (European Coalition to End Animal Experiments) were created. Animalia, Finland’s leading animal protection organisation, was founded back in 1961. The group has estimated that in 2008 over 138,500 animals were used for experiments in Finland and that more than 12 million test animals have been used every year within the EU.

Since the 1990s, the European Union has released a series of measures to tackle the problem: the 1993 directive on a marketing ban of cosmetics tested on animals (postponed due to the lack of alternatives to animal testing) and the introduction, in 2003, of a new set of provisions (ban of animal testing of finished cosmetic products, the ban of animal testing of cosmetic ingredients, the ban of marketing of finished cosmetic products tested on animals and the ban of marketing cosmetic ingredients tested on animals). In 2007, the EU financed a research fund of 238 million euro to find alternatives to experiments on animals, while testing was still allowed for the most complex human health effects like cancer and allergens.

The ban of cosmetics tested on animals from the EU market, announced by the European Union this March has been described by European Commissioner in charge of Health & Consumer Policy Tonio Borg, as, “An important signal on the value that Europe attaches to animal welfare. The development of alternative methods and the engagement with third countries to follow the European approach, is a great opportunity for Europe to set an example of responsible innovation in cosmetics without any compromise on consumer safety.”

The statement on the EU website makes it clear: “No animal testing for cosmetic purposes can be carried out in Europe.”

Yannick Ilunga