For the second part of our animals in research series, on Wednesday 3rd March, SAWS welcomed Samantha Saunders from PETA to talk about cosmetic testing on animals. Samantha spoke about her experiences working to improve animal welfare and shone a light on the issue of cosmetics testing on animals and how we can combat the issue.
What is cosmetics testing and how does it affect animal welfare?
The testing of cosmetic products and their individual ingredients on animals is a method used to assess their safety for human use. The animals most commonly used for these tests include rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits, and the tests performed can include:
· Skin and eye irritation tests: chemicals are applied to shaved skin or dripped into eyes and the animals are monitored to check for allergic reaction or chemical burns
· Ingestion toxicity tests: cosmetics are force-fed to (sometimes pregnant) animals, to check for general illness such as vomiting, or long-term health hazards such as cancer
· Lethal dose tests: increasing concentrations of products are force-fed to animals to determine the lethal dose
Following extensive tests, the animals are euthanized.
But I thought cosmetics testing was banned in the UK? So why aren’t the products on our shelves cruelty-free?
The UK was actually one of the first countries to reject animal testing, enforcing a ban in 1998. The EU followed suit in March 2013, a huge step forward for animal welfare. Unfortunately, there is still a problem in EU law: a chemical testing legislation known as REACH: Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals. This regulation is under the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and aims to avoid unnecessary testing on animals, whilst ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment. Sadly, REACH is not as stringent in its guidelines as you’d hope, and even states that chemicals that were marketed prior to 1981 need extensive safety testing on animals.
In addition, in a few countries across the world, animal testing is not only permitted; it is required on all cosmetics. In China for example, any company that sells cosmetics on the market must submit animal data. So this means that while companies are complying with the animal testing ban in Europe, they may be paying for animal tests in order to sell their products on other markets. Therefore, the cosmetics on our shelves may not be completely cruelty free.
What is PETA doing to stop animal testing?
PETA is working hard behind the scenes to encourage ECHA to tighten up the REACH guidelines, and keep animal testing to an absolute minimum. In 2013, PETA submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman about the maladministration of ECHA and reach, and Samantha hinted that there will be exciting news coming soon about PETAs work in this area.
PETA works hard to spread public awareness of animal welfare issues and has worked hard to bring cosmetics testing to light. As a result, public pressure on companies to stop animal tests has increased over the past few years and more and more companies are turning away from animal tests in favour of other tests. Even countries that have long insisted on animal testing as a reliable measure of safety in humans are responding. From May 1st, the Chinese agency that regulates drugs and medical devices says imported ordinary cosmetics will no longer be tested on animals. Although "special" cosmetics sold on the Chinese market are still required to have been tested on animals, this is a huge step forward, and PETA anticipates that further work will push China to ditch animal testing altogether.
What can we use instead of animal data to determine if products are safe for human use?
Animal testing came about in order to make sure products were safe and effective for humans before they hit the market. Aside from causing unnecessary pain and suffering, animal tests have limitations, as different species respond differently to the same chemicals and therefore the results might not be relevant to humans. There are a variety of alternatives to animal testing which have been proven to be more effective:
· The Epiderm model: a 3 dimensional, human cell-derived skin model which replaces skin irritation tests in animals and has been proven to be more effective than animal models in assessing the potential of a substance to cause a skin allergy in humans
· Organs-on-chips: human cells that mimic the structure and function of human organs, grown on chips have been shown to replicate human physiology and drug responses more than animal experiments do
· Quantitative structure-activity relationships: sophisticated computer models can stimulate human biology and accurately predict the way that new drugs will react in, or on, the body
· Microdosing human volunteers: volunteers are given an incredibly small dose of the cosmetic product and sophisticated imaging techniques are used to monitor how the drug behaves in the body
I want to stop cosmetics testing on animals! Where do I start?
Companies listen to consumer demand. By making a conscious effort to shop cruelty free, you send a clear message to companies that testing on animals is unacceptable. To find cruelty free products, look for the leaping bunny symbol and check out this comprehensive list of cruelty-free companies: https://crueltyfree.peta.org/
You can also support organisations like PETA and the Leaping Bunny program by signing petitions and donating to their causes, to help them spread the word and fund cruelty-free experiments.
Finally, a huge thank you from SAWS to everyone who attended this event. For each attendee, SAWS donated 20p to the Leaping Bunny program, so simply by attending our talks, you can make a difference to animal welfare!