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Cutting the cruelty from cosmetics

By George Seymour - posted Thursday, 14 March 2013


On 11 March 2013 a full ban on animal testing of cosmetics came into force in the European Union (EU). This means that it is now illegal to import or market cosmetic products within the E.U. if the product contains any ingredients that have been tested on animals anywhere after 11 March 2013.

While testing on animals for cosmetics or their ingredients has been banned within the E.U. since 2009, until Monday it was still legal to sell cosmetics that had been tested on animals outside of the E.U. The phasing out of animal testing under the Cosmetic Directive has been subject to a timetable. The E.U. Testing Ban on finished cosmetic products has applied since 11 September 2004, and the Testing Ban on individual ingredients has applied since 11 March 2009.

This ban has been a long time coming and has had several delays at the instigation of the cosmetics industry. The proposal for this ban has been debated within the E.U’s institutions for decades. It has been brought about through sustained campaigning and the questioning of how our treatment of animals can be justified.

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Can new vanity products possibly justify Draize eye and skin tests or LD50 toxicity tests? The answers to such questions and the way we treat animals says a lot about us. As Ghandi said, "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated".  Animals are powerless. The concern we show those under our control through individual actions, as well as societal responses of legislation and custom, is a reflection of the depth of our empathy and compassion.

Animals are unable to plead for better treatment, resist, or express appreciation for mercy. We know that they are capable of suffering and that these tests inflict it. What we do with this knowledge of their capacity to suffer at our hands is our moral test. The message from the E.U’s ban is that animals should not suffer and die for nail polish and eyeliner. The use of sentient beings for such purposes is immoral.

Such cruelty is unnecessary. Non-animal alternatives exist and have in part been advanced through the impending E.U. ban.

Despite these alternatives, Chinese law requires animal testing. The desire to enter this growing market has led some companies to test again on animals after realising years ago that it was cruel and unnecessary. It will be interesting to see how companies can market the same cosmetics in the E.U. and China with these incompatible laws. New products can’t satisfy both regulatory regimes.

This step by the E.U. could be an important turning point in the treatment of animals. Israel has also recently implemented a similar ban, one that Australia should follow.

Many of the imported cosmetic products sold in Australia have been tested on animals overseas. This is the problem that Israel and the E.U. have sought to address by creating markets that object to unnecessary cruelty. Under Section 81(1) of the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989, the Minister for Health and Ageing, has the power to determine standards for cosmetics imported into, or manufactured in, Australia. Such standards could mirror the E.U's ban on animal testing.

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Until such time as Australia follows the lead of the E.U, consumers can ensure that they are not supporting animal testing by checking packaging for certification, such as Choose Cruelty Free.  

Upon the ban coming into effect Tonio Borg, the E.U Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said “today's entry into force of the full marketing ban gives an important signal on the value that Europe attaches to animal welfare.” The11th of March 2013 will be remembered as an important day in the ever-evolving relationship between humans and non-human animals. It sends a signal that their lives are not ours to dispose of wantonly. 

We should always question whether the treatment we afford them is just. The 27 member-states of the E.U. have recognised that the painful deaths of rabbits, mice, and other animals can’t be justified for a new line of bronzer, and it is time that Australia did too.

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Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
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About the Author

George Seymour is a solicitor and local government councillor. He is the President of Youthcare Hervey Bay, a homeless shelter providing support to young people on the Fraser Coast, Queensland.

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