Court of Justice of the European Union ruling exposes limitations of cosmetics animal testing ban

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Court of Justice of the European Union ruling exposes limitations of cosmetics animal testing ban

24 November 2023
News
The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled against German chemicals company Symrise AG, who challenged a European Chemicals Agency request to perform animal testing on two cosmetic ingredients. This means additional animal testing may be demanded by regulators to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients, despite the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics in place since 2013.

In 2004, the EU responded to citizens' long-standing concerns about animal testing for cosmetic products by introducing a ban to prohibit the testing of finished cosmetic products and cosmetic ingredients on animals. The testing ban was followed by another ban to prohibit the marketing of finished cosmetic products and ingredients in the EU which are tested on animals, which became fully effective in 2013. 

Despite the bans, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has established that in certain cases, widely used cosmetic ingredients with a long history of safe use must be tested on animals to comply with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation. 

In 2018, the company Symrise AG challenged ECHA's request to test two ingredients in its sunscreen product on 5,500 animals, refusing to carry out further animal testing that undermines the EU cosmetics bans. Following a legal battle between the two parties, the Court of Justice of the European Union has now delivered its official decision, dismissing the action brought by Symrise AG, and thus allowing ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics to be tested on animals under REACH to assess the safety risks of workers who may be exposed to the ingredients.

But the wishes of citizens are clear: animals must not suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics. The recent European Citizens Initiative (ECI) Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics -  Commit to a Europe without animal testing gave clarity to EU citizens' voices, calling on the Commission to protect and strengthen the cosmetics animal testing ban.

Following this ruling, it’s clearer than ever that we need a chemicals roadmap.   

Eurogroup for Animals is deeply concerned by this decision, as it goes against the expectations and wishes of citizens and could lead to the demand of animal testing at the cost of thousands more animal lives. In its reply to the ECI Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics, the European Commission mentioned that its response might be affected by the Court’s ruling in the Symrise AG case. Now that the Court has ruled, we are regrettably witnessing a step backwards. This case will set a precedent that will pave the way for more animal testing of cosmetic ingredients to meet the requirement under REACH. 

These loopholes in the cosmetics animal testing ban are indicative of a regulatory system that is, at the moment, unable to follow scientific progress on non-animal testing approaches. This is why it is imperative that the Commission delivers on the promise for a roadmap towards phasing out animal testing for chemical safety assessments. Eurogroup for Animals, together with fellow ECI organiser NGOs, aim to ensure that a concrete and actionable framework with specific milestones is delivered.

Update

On 17 May 2023, the UK Home Secretary issued a written statement announcing a ban on new licences for animal testing of chemicals used exclusively as cosmetics ingredients carried out under REACH for the purpose of worker and environmental safety. On 22 November, the UK Home Office confirmed that animal testing will no longer be permitted in Great Britain for chemicals exclusively intended to be used as ingredients in cosmetics products. Following the decision of the Court of Justice on the Symrise case, the UK will soon become the only European country with a full ban on animal testing for cosmetics.