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European Standing Committee C Debates

Cosmetic Products

European Standing Committee C

Wednesday 13 March 2002

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Cosmetic Products

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain the current state of play on the cosmetics directive. The European Commission's proposed seventh amendment to the cosmetics directive is regarded by the Government as an important and valuable contribution towards improving animal welfare and increasing the safety of cosmetic products. Before I go into the details of the proposal, I wish to emphasise a few matters that are extremely pertinent to our discussion this morning. Members of the Committee will have received the common position text that was adopted on 14 February. It is substantially the same as the text that was submitted with my Department's explanatory memorandum on 14 November last year.

The products covered by the cosmetics directive are much more than traditional cosmetics. Cosmetics may seem frivolous items, but the directive covers all personal hygiene items such as toothpastes, shaving creams, sunscreens and baby care products; items that we all use every day. Their testing must ensure that such products are safe for children and adults to use. That is crucial, so we must be sure that non-animal tests exist that are as scientifically reliable as the current tests on animals if we are to allow the continuing development of new ingredients. It should be noted that animal testing on cosmetics and their ingredients accounts for only 0.3 per cent. of the total number of animals, primarily rats and mice, used in experiments in the European Union.

The United Kingdom chose not to test finished cosmetic products or their ingredients on animals, and has not done so since 1998. Therefore, the impact of parts of the amendment on the United Kingdom industry will be limited. That was recognised by the House of Commons Select Committee on European Scrutiny, which stated in the conclusion to its seventh report:

    ''The direct consequences of the changes proposed by the Presidency for Cosmetics produced within the UK would be limited and that its main impact would be on those imported from third countries.''{**w10**}

However, we need to go further and do what we legitimately can to drive down the testing of cosmetics on animals world wide. That is why we support the cosmetics directive seventh amendment common position text that was adopted on 14 February. The text is worthy of the House's support both to protect consumers and to promote animal welfare issues. I shall now highlight some of the reasons why that is the case.

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First, several measures proposed within the seventh amendment test will directly enhance consumer protection and safety. There is a requirement that substances classified as carcinogens, mutagens and substances toxic to reproductionCMRsused in cosmetic products shall be subject to an immediate risk evaluation by the European Commission. Following that evaluation, and after consultation with the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic and Non-Food Products, the Commission can take any measures that are deemed necessary. That will be the first time that CMRs have been subjected to an immediate evaluation by the Commission, which is a welcome move.

The text includes a provision that will require all cosmetic products to bear a date of minimum durability or best before date. That is the date until which the cosmetic product stored under the appropriate conditions continues to fulfil its intended function. The seventh amendment also requires any cosmetic products intended for children under the age of three or for external intimate hygiene to be subjected to a specific safety assessment before they are placed on the market. That is a positive and extremely sensible provision, the first part of which will help to protect small children.

Secondly, in terms of animal welfare, the text offers a complete ban on animal tests of finished cosmetic products. The ban is unconditional and would, if agreed, represent a significant step forward for most European Union member states. Currently, the majority of countries in the EU still allow the testing of finished products. The only countries to have adopted a similar line to the United Kingdom and banned animal testing for cosmetics are the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.

The proposals in respect of testing cosmetic ingredients are more complex; not in outcome, as the end result would be a ban on testing ingredients, but in terms of timing. I shall discuss them shortly.

The testing ban is controversial, as today's debate shows. Animal welfare groups have made it clear that the text may not go far enough, and they will be satisfied only with an outright and immediate ban on testing in the EU on both finished products and ingredients. They also want what was proposed in the unimplemented sixth amendment; an outright and immediate ban on the marketing in the EU of products tested on animals, which would affect all cosmetic imports as well as EU-produced cosmetics.

Under the proposals, non-animal testing will replace animal testing, immediately for new products and over time for newly developed ingredients. They will apply to ingredients developed in the EU and anywhere else in the world and will prohibit the supply to the EU of products that have been tested on animals, no matter where in the world the tests have been carried out. Therefore, EU internal policy would have an external effect, too. In effect, we shall reach the same end point as the sixth amendment, but in a way that ensures the continuing development of new ingredients to the same health and safety standards as now. We believe that that will be compatible with our international obligations, and it is more likely to

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support our longer-term aim of persuading other nations to adopt higher animal welfare standards.

I sympathise strongly with those pressing for a worldwide ban on the testing of cosmetics on animals, which is our ultimate goal, too. However, we believe that the first and most important step is to ban outright the testing of finished cosmetic products on animals in the EU. We must first put our own house in order in the EU if we are to carry the rest of the world with us on this important ethical issue.

Although we strongly agree with the aim of abolishing animal testing for cosmetic ingredients and combinations of ingredients, we need to do that in a way that does not compromise consumers' health and safety, which is the primary objective of legislation in the field. Many of the 8,000 existing cosmetic ingredients are rarely used, and some are not used at all. There are also occasional safety concerns about existing ingredients. For example, animal testing was recently used to prove beyond doubt that several ingredients that had had the finger pointed at them as potential endocrine disruptors were not endocrine disruptors and were safe for use in cosmetics.

The cosmetics industry is not static but innovative. Therefore, the need for a safety assessment of new ingredients is paramount before new products can be placed on the market. For example, soaps containing anti-microbial agents would not be on the market today if the new active ingredients had not been tested on animals.

Thirdly, we agree strongly with the aim of abolishing animal testing of cosmetic ingredients and combinations of ingredients, as soon as it is practicable. However, we are committed to pursuing that objective without compromising consumers' health and safety or infringing UK and EU international obligations. We therefore support the approach in the seventh amendment, which links the ban on the testing of ingredients to the availability of non-animal alternative tests that have been published and validated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That will serve as a spur to the industry to speed up existing work on the development of non-animal tests, while ensuring that ingredients that may be beneficial to consumers can continue to be developed. Within the past two years, new UV filters have been approved under the cosmetics directive for use in Europe under the cosmetics directive and were subject to safety assessment by the SCCNFP before manufacturers could use them. The safety assessment would have included animal tests.

The seventh amendment text reinforces the regulatory framework to ensure the mandatory use of alternatives wherever they exist, including those that permit a reduction in the number of animals used or in the level of pain they might experience. However, the text makes it clear that any testing method entailing the use of animals cannot be accepted if a validated method exists that gives an equivalent level of assurance of safety but does not entail the use of animals.

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Linking the use of alternatives to OECD validation and publication is an improvement on early proposals. Previously, the seventh amendment required validation and publication of non-animal alternative tests by the European centre for the validation of alternative methods. However, the OECD is an internationally recognised body. Validation and publication by the OECD will help to demonstrate that appropriately high levels of consumer health and safety can be met while continuing to reduce levels of animal testing. Equally importantly, OECD validation and publication will better ensure wider international acceptance of the EU's ethical concerns and is fully in line with the EU's commitments to promote animal welfare internationally.

By proceeding in a scientifically based and transparent way, we are more likely to persuade other major cosmetic producing countries to reduce or abolish animal testing than by proceeding with an immediate ban on marketing, which would be perceived as inherently protectionist and would be counter-productive to our important aim of working towards higher standards of animal welfare worldwide. That is especially important when states such as the United States, Switzerland and Japanmajor suppliers to the EU marketrequire manufacturers of cosmetic products to produce animal testing data to demonstrate that their products will not harm the health and safety of consumers.

There are timing uncertainties as to when we will reach a state that is equivalent to the sixth amendment's marketing ban. After careful consideration of the current state of scientific knowledge and the experience gained over the past 10 years of research and development of alternatives to animal testing, we have concluded that it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty when all the necessary testing methods that do not require the use of animals will be available.

Most importantly for our discussion, the present text represents a significant step in the right direction towards adopting a measure suitable to replace the unimplemented sixth amendment to the cosmetics directive. Should the seventh amendment fail to come into force by 30 June, the sixth amendment will become law. Superficially, that might seem to be a good thing, but the marketing ban within the sixth amendment has major downsides that are incompatible with our World Trade Organisation obligations. That is not only the Government's view; it is the informed opinion of the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers and the majority of member states. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee accepted the Government's detailed arguments on that in July 2001.

The sixth amendment to the cosmetics directive was passed in the early 1990s, prior to the entry into force of the WTO agreement on 1 January 1995. The marketing prohibition within the sixth amendment would affect the development of new ingredients within the EU and prevent the import of cosmetics products containing new ingredients into the EU. There is a strong risk that that would be seen to be a

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protectionist measure and would be challenged by countries that currently export cosmetics to the EU. Although the legal position is unclear, as it so often is, the consensus of legal advice is clear. If a marketing ban were introduced and challenged in the WTO, it is likely to be found in breach of WTO rules and a dispute panel would probably find it unjustifiable under the permitted exceptions. Importantly, Government policy requires that, although trade considerations cannot be the sole determinant of the Government's objectives, it is essential that United Kingdom and EU policies are framed in full knowledge of our WTO obligations and are designed to withstand WTO challenge.

The compatibility of the sixth amendment is extremely uncertain, so a marketing ban would be counter-productive to long-term concern about welfare standards worldwide and the UK Government should seek to avoid it ever coming into effect. The text for the seventh amendment would considerably reduce the risk of a challenge, and improve our ability to present a credible defence if challenged. It will not cut across our longer-term efforts to persuade others throughout the world to adopt higher standards of animal welfare. If it is agreed by other member states, it will immediately extend the testing ban on finished products, which is already voluntary in the United Kingdom, throughout the EU. A testing ban on new ingredients, whether they are developed in the EU or elsewhere, will be introduced gradually in a scientifically valid way that maintains health and safety standards and allows the development of new ingredients.

The ultimate effect of the seventh amendment is comparable to that of the sixth, and I hope that the Committee will support it.


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Prepared 13 March 2002