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Ending animal testing: Europe commits to accelerating phase-out


1.2 million people signed the Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics European Citizens’ Initiative urging policy-makers to end animal testing. Now the EU Commission has committed to accelerate phasing out animal tests but has failed to uphold its own cosmetics animal testing ban.

A young girl with black hair tied in bunches gazes at a small white rabbit.

At Unilever, we believe that tests on animals should not be used to make sure that our products or their ingredients are safe. We have developed and used the latest alternatives to animal testing to assess product and ingredient safety for decades.

That’s why when the EU’s ban on animal testing for cosmetics was threatened by new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) requests for animal tests on cosmetic ingredients with a long history of safe use, we had to act.

In December 2020, Unilever joined forces with animal protection organisations, our cruelty-free brands and other companies to call for the EU cosmetics animal testing ban to be upheld, as intended, with no new tests on animals allowed.

The fight to save cruelty-free cosmetics must continue.

Dr Julia Fentem, Global Head of Safety, Environmental & Regulatory Sciences

Our Dove brand then collaborated with PETA, Cruelty Free International, Humane Society International, The Body Shop, and over 100 animal protection organisations, to support the Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which was eventually signed by more than 1.2 million people, sending a clear signal to the European Commission that consumers want to protect the ban.

This week the EU Commission has responded to the ECI by publishing a series of commitments designed to accelerate the phasing out of animal testing – but completely failing to protect or strengthen the cosmetics animal testing ban.

White text reading Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics on a pink background, with a line-drawn rabbit on the left.

Here’s what the ECI asked for and how the European Commission is taking action:

  1. Protect and strengthen the cosmetics animal testing ban

    The ask: Uphold the ban on all testing on animals for cosmetics ingredients for any purpose at any time.

    The answer: No progress. The Commission highlighted that the interface between the EU cosmetics and chemicals regulations is currently subject to two cases before the EU Court of Justice, so it will await the outcome of these before considering any potential legislative changes that could protect or strengthen the cosmetics animal testing ban.

    While we don’t have a positive outcome on this yet, with 1.2 million European citizens showing their support for the ban on animal testing for cosmetics, we remain hopeful that the Commission will act to protect it.

  2. Transform EU chemicals regulation

    The ask: Ensure human health and the environment are protected by managing chemicals without the addition of new animal testing requirements.

    The answer: Clear progress. The Commission has said it will work together with all stakeholders to create and implement a roadmap towards animal-free chemical safety assessment. The roadmap will serve as a framework for reducing and ultimately eliminating animal testing in the context of chemicals legislation.

  3. Modernise science in the EU

    The ask: Commit to a legislative proposal, plotting a roadmap to phase out all animal testing before the end of the current legislative term.

    The answer: Encouraging news. The Commission continues to support the development of alternative approaches with appropriate research funding and will propose a series of actions to accelerate the reduction of animal testing in research, education and training.

Unilever’s view on the ECI response

We welcome the Commission’s commitments, and we will continue working together to accelerate phasing out animal testing through our involvement in the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) and other collaborative initiatives.

However, we are disappointed by the European Commission’s unwillingness to protect and strengthen its own pioneering ban on animal testing for cosmetics. We await the judgements of the EU Court of Justice cases and will continue to advocate for the European ban on animal testing for cosmetics to be upheld.

Text reads ‘We say use science. Not animals.’ A purple background with white banners and purple text. A white Unilever logo.

Phasing out regulatory animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients

Advocating for an end to animal testing for cosmetics is a cause we have championed for many years. In 2018 we announced our support for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics and our Dove brand, which reaches tens of millions of consumers every day, was PETA-Approved. We now have over 25 PETA-Approved brands, including TRESemmé, Simple, Sunsilk and Lakmé – and we’re committed to supporting a move to non-animal methods for cosmetics testing all over the world.

We believe that regulators can and should go further to phase out animal tests through implementing non-animal approaches for assessing the safety of all chemical ingredients – not just those used in cosmetics.

That’s why we’re working with stakeholders to accelerate the transition towards an animal-free regulatory system for chemicals through platforms like the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing, International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety and the Animal-Free Safety Assessment Collaboration.

“The EU’s ban on animal testing for cosmetics was a pioneering step when it launched and we welcome the European Commission's commitment to continue phasing out animal testing in response to the ECI,” says Dr Julia Fentem, Unilever’s Global Head of Safety, Environmental and Regulatory Sciences.

“However, the failure to uphold the cosmetics animal testing ban, which received such incredible support from citizens across Europe, is shocking and difficult to justify. Consequently, the struggle to save cruelty-free cosmetics through enabling regulatory adoption of modern non-animal safety science must continue,” she adds.

Read more: Save Cruelty-Free Cosmetics: Commit to a Europe without Animal Testing | Unilever

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