Cruelty-free activists lambast EU bureaucracy as consumers unwittingly indulge in animal-tested cosmetics
23 Mar 2023 --- A market gap for cruelty-free cosmetics still exists despite modern science producing non-animal methods to test product safety. According to PETA UK science policy manager Dr. Julia Baines, EU-level bureaucracy is responsible for this failure to embrace new testing methods that would alleviate animal suffering.
In part one of our series on animal testing, PersonalCareInsights revealed that loopholes in EU regulations mean that consumers often unknowingly purchase products that have been tested on animals.
We also highlighted that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) maintains that there are currently no alternatives to replace all kinds of animal testing for safety assessments. ECHA requires companies to submit safety data to protect workers’ health, which often entails testing chemicals on animals.
In this second part, we look at the emergence of non-animal testing methods and the barriers to their uptake. We also consider arguments from regulators that still view animal tests as necessary for human safety.
Contradictory rules breed cruelty
ECHA and the European Commission (EC) justify the need for animal testing – irrespective of the chemical being used exclusively for cosmetics or as a general use ingredient for industries such as pharmaceuticals – as a compliance check under the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation.
“At the moment, it is only possible to systematically apply alternative methods and approaches for acute and short-term effects, such as eye irritation or bioaccumulation testing. Animal tests are often essential for demonstrating long-term effects on human health and the environment,” argues the administrative body.
It explains that animal tests are only required if there is no alternative method to fulfill the relevant REACH information requirement. The law requires companies to use alternative methods whenever possible – so companies should only ever test on animals as a last resort.
The EU’s Cosmetics Regulation restricts vertebrate animal tests. However, beauty manufacturers are not prohibited from testing a substance on animals under the requirements of REACH regulation.
“The Cosmetics Regulation aims at protecting consumers – it does not protect workers. To ensure that workers are not at risk, REACH requires safety data on the properties of chemicals they handle,” ECHA says.
However, Dr. Baines views these different regulatory requirements as “outrageous.” “There are two contradictory laws: while the Cosmetics Regulation bans animal testing, REACH elicits several animal test requirements,” she points out.
“ECHA commissioners mandate companies to test under REACH – regardless of the type of ingredients – simply to fulfill a checkbox.”
Consumers, workers and animals
Despite scientific advancements in arguably superior non-animal methods – such as organ-on-a-chip technology, models using human cells or tissues and advanced computer based models – a significant decline in the use of animal testing is yet to be seen.
“The EU’s advisory body for the health and safety risks of non-food consumer products and services (Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS)) employs scientists to review and approve safety data submitted by beauty companies on the cosmetics portal. They are the experts in applying non-animal methods to assess the effect of products and ingredients on human health,” continues Dr. Baines.
“Also, ECHA’s worker exposure argument is ridiculous, but what is doubly ridiculous is the types of tests that companies have been requested to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a consumer or a worker – there are no different reproductive toxicity studies, for instance, to look at the effects it has on workers as opposed to consumers.”
“The SCCS can assess an ingredient using non-animal methodologies to say it’s safe for consumers. Workers are obviously humans and, if SCCS can apply superior methodology, then why can’t ECHA use the same approach?”
Moreover, animal protection groups argue that alternatives to animal testing are free from the discrepancies arising from differences in species and DNA structuring, which makes them more reliable human safety indicators.
Next-gen chemical tests
The cosmetics sector has helped pioneer the development and validation of non-animal safety methods. Next-generation assessment frameworks using computer models should now be considered for chemical exposure data, animal protection groups say.
Doctors Against Animal Experiments states: “Animal experiments are not only cruel and unethical but also unscientiﬁc and unsafe. They must be abolished immediately in the interest of humans and animals and replaced by meaningful and humane procedures.”
Meanwhile, Cruelty Free International details that modern non-animal methods are increasingly becoming more reliable and relevant than tests on animals.
“The latest non-animal approaches for evaluating a chemical’s potential for causing skin sensitization to predict human outcomes with up to 84% accuracy, whereas the most widely-used animal test is just 58% accurate,” it says.
“Capable of being faster and cheaper, non-animal methods can also enable many more chemicals and mixtures of chemicals to be tested than would be possible with animal tests. This is becoming ever more important as the number of chemicals manufactured – and knowledge about the hazards they can pose – increases.”
An extensive number of tests are performed to determine the adverse outcome pathway (AOP) of an ingredient or product.
“AOP tells us the route a chemical might take through the body. Several non-animal tests can assess skin irritancy, sensitization and allergic response to ascertain human skin reaction to a certain type of product,” says Dr. Baines.
“For example, the traditional Draize rabbit test assesses the skin irritancy of a chemical. Scientists would shave off part of the fur and then apply the chemical to the skin and monitor the rabbit for a period of time, before scoring on a very arbitrary scale of one to five and determining how badly damaged or inflamed the skin looks – it’s a very crude test.”
However, some argue non-animal tests are more relevant to humans, allowing detailed information about the reaction at the molecular level to be obtained.
“Through AOP, the potential adverse effects at each biochemical initiating event within the body can be ascertained. Things like cell cultures using human skin cells are combined with computer modeling methods. Compiling all the data, scientists can create a reliable prediction model for the effect of an ingredient on a human body,” Dr. Baines elaborates.
By Radhika Sikaria
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