A Sign of Progress: The EU Ban on Animal-tested Cosmetics

There is now a complete ban on the sale of cosmetics that have relied on animal testing. So for those who are worried about their cosmetics being cruelty-free or not, there is now no need to worry. There is no longer a need to look for cosmetic products which are labelled 'free from animal testing'. The 27 EU countries have actually had a ban in place since 2009, but now the EU has extended this ban to trading partners as well. The ban therefore applies to all cosmetics, regardless of where they were tested in the world.

The ban in 2009 never proved to be fully effective in putting a stop to animal testing anyway. Cosmetic companies were still testing on animals to see if their products were safe for humans in terms of toxicity. But even these tests now come under the new ban. The anti-vivisection (opposition to experiments on live animals) group BUAV and the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments said they have spent more then 20 years campaigning for such a ban. They have included high-profile celebrities in their fight, such as Paul McCartney and Morrissey. Finally they have achieved their aim.

The anti-vivisection movement began in the mid 19th Century after scientists Francoise Magendie (1793-1855) and his successor, Claude Bernard (1813-1978), performed surgery and dissection on live animals. The anti-vivisection movement had many sub-groups, based on the different justifications for animal welfare; so some anti-vivisectionists were feminists, some humanists, some religious (particularly the Quakers) and some just spiritually inclined. Famous 19th Century anti-vivisectionists included Anna Sewell, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain.

So clearly, those concerned with animal welfare and protection were not hippies on the fringes of society, but intellectuals with a moral feeling that urged them to speak out against scientists cutting into live puppies, for example. As Dickens said, The necessity for these experiments I dispute. Man has no right to gratify an idle and purposeless curiosity through the practice of cruelty.”

This point about the unnecessary cruelty inflicted on animals would later be used by groups such as BUAV in their campaign against cosmetic testing on animals. Cosmetics are not necessary for human well-being. Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) founded the world's first organisation to campaign against animal experiments in 1875, the National Anti-Vivisection Society, as well as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1898. Both organisations are active today, yet it really has taken them, and other organisations, a lot of effort to influence an official ban on animal testing for trivial reasons, such as cosmetics.

However, although the EU ban is a win for the animal rights movement and a sign of great progress, BUAV still insists that it is not enough. They point out that many countries in the world still test on animals for cosmetic products and are urging for a world-wide ban. In terms of the arguments against animal cruelty and for the sake of consistency, a world-wide ban would be completely justified. But who knows when such a ban could go into effect – animal rights groups have to put a lot of effort into their campaigns just to get their voices heard. So to instigate a world-wide ban would require that many government officials reconsider their views on the treatment of animals.

It is interesting to take note of the opposition to this ban. Cosmetic firms are concerned that the ban could put Europe at a competitive disadvantage in a global market. Cosmetics Europe chief Bertil Heerink was quoted as saying that, "by implementing the ban at this time, the European Union is jeopardising the industry's ability to innovate". It is clear then that the cosmetic industry's interests are purely financial. This should come as no surprise. It is just surprising that its representatives completely disregard the entire subject of animal cruelty and suffering, which the industry has been a major contributor to. It's pretty heartless. For me personally, the opinion of Bertil Heerink is no different to that of a Southern American slave-owner in the 1800s claiming that Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves would jeopardise his business or the slave industry's ability to innovate.

It is important for the cosmetics industry, and people in general, to understand why groups such as BUAV are calling for an international ban on animal testing. In cosmetics testing, it is mainly rabbits, mice and rats which are used. Peter Singer points out in his essay Do Animals Feel Pain? (1990) that it is a well-established fact in the scientific community that all mammals (which includes mice and rats) can feel pain. We know this from observations of behaviour (writhing, yelping, screaming, twitching, facial contortions and attempts to avoid the source of stimulus), as well as the fact that all mammals have a similar nervous system.

Physiologically, humans and mice share the same physiological reactions to sources of pain, such as a rise in blood pressure, dilated pupils, perspiration and an increased heart rate. Although humans are more developed in thought and reasoning; feelings such as pain, stress and fear are very basic and are shared by non-humans and humans alike. The pain that animals feel may be even more intense than it is for humans. Humans are able to deal with pain in a way that animals cannot - a person will realise that the pain will come to an end, reducing its severity. Humans can approach pain in a calm and accepting way, viewing it in abstract terms. Animals, on the other hand, are unable to do so and the intensity of the pain and fear experienced in experiments may be much worse for them as it would be for a consenting human.

Therefore, anti-vivisection and anti-cruelty movements are justified in their campaigns. Cosmetic testing often involves applying toxic and irritant chemicals to the eyes, nose and mouth of the animals. Around 100 million animals are used each year for cosmetic testing, with over 1 million dying each year in the US alone. The chemicals used on animals often burns, irritates and deforms them, so with 100 million animals being used in this way, a large amount of suffering and death is an obvious and depressing fact.

Others who objected to the EU ban were worried that there would be no alternatives to animal testing. As it stands, cell and tissue culture methods are in use as alternatives, as well as computer modelling and and medical imaging. Also, the EU commission says it is worth with the industry to develop more alternatives and that it has previously allocated £208 million for such research. My hope is that the EU ban on cosmetic animal testing will lead the way for other bans, especially in the food, sport and entertainment industries which rely on the suffering of millions of animals each year.

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I'm a freelance writer who is interested in a variety of subjects, especially those which are philosophical, complex and involve a multitude of perspectives. I created this blog in order to share my thoughts, and to encourage debate and discussion about the most fascinating topics I can think of. Get in touch: samwoolfe@gmail.com