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Developing alternative approaches to animal testing

We use a wide range of non-animal approaches to assess the safety of our products for consumers. We are committed to ending animal testing. Our leading-edge research has one clear purpose: to continue to develop new non-animal approaches that can guarantee that our products are safe, without any need for animal testing.

Our commitment & progress

Our commitment to ending animal testing is under-pinned by our work since the 1980s in developing and using alternatives to animal tests for assessing safety, e.g. computer-based modelling and cell-based ‘in vitro’ methods. Unilever’s framework for safety assessment is risk-based rather than hazard-based. This enables us to use a wide range of non-animal approaches to assess the safety of our products for consumers. We review all of the available data, including how consumers use the product and safety information on the ingredients it contains.

We are making good progress in developing next generation (non-animal) risk assessment approaches for assessing new ingredients. To encourage acceptance of these new approaches we continue to present and publish our results externally, and are working with international research and policy groups to share our experience. We share our scientific research on a dedicated Safety Science in the 21st Century website.

In 2017 the risk-based non-animal approaches we are developing for assessing consumer safety were discussed with leading scientists, policy-makers, regulators and animal welfare organisations at key meetings in the EU, US and China. Unilever scientists were major contributors at the 10th World Congress on Alternatives, where we shared progress on our next generation non-animal safety science, including a collaborative research programme with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists to advance in vitro and in silico approaches for chemical risk assessment.

Unilever experts continue to play an active role in China in training programmes on non-animal safety assessment approaches, such as those involving the China Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Shanghai FDA.

Our position

We do not test our products on animals and are committed to ending animal testing. Unilever has complied with the EU animal testing bans for cosmetics since 2004 and supports calls for similar bans to be introduced globally.

Occasionally, across our portfolio, some of the ingredients we use have to be tested by our suppliers to comply with legal and regulatory requirements in some markets; and some governments test certain products on animals as part of their regulations.

As part of our commitment to ending animal testing, we have a growing number of brands that ensure that neither their products – nor the ingredients they use – are subject to animal testing by suppliers or by regulatory authorities. These brands’ commitment to no animal testing is certified by animal welfare groups.

We use a wide range of non-animal approaches to assess the safety of our products for consumers and continue to develop new ‘next generation’ approaches. Our team of internationally recognised leaders in non-animal safety science work with regulatory authorities, NGOs, our suppliers and other scientists across the world to share these approaches, to promote their broader use and acceptance by authorities. Our leading-edge research has one clear purpose: to continue to develop new non-animal approaches that can guarantee that our products are safe, without any need for animal testing.

Unilever's research focus

For over 30 years, scientists at our Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) have played a leading role, in partnership with academic researchers, other companies, industry groups and government bodies, in the development, validation and subsequent regulatory acceptance of several non-animal methods for use in safety assessments. These include methods for assessing skin penetration, phototoxicity, skin corrosion and skin irritation. We have published more than 450 scientific articles on the development and application of alternative non-animal approaches, and regularly present our research at scientific conferences.

In the past 30 years, we have invested about 1 million hours of Unilever experts’ time, and more than 100 million Euros, in research into non-animal approaches for assessing consumer safety. Our current research focuses on developing next generation (non-animal) safety risk assessment approaches, incorporating computational toxicology models, for assessing the potential for chemicals to cause skin allergy and adverse effects following systemic exposure. During 2017, SEAC’s research on risk assessment approaches for assuring consumer safety without animal testing resulted in the publication of 10 scientific papers.

Partnerships

SEAC scientists are working with over 50 partners across the world on non-animal approaches to safety assessment, building the capability needed to implement the strategic framework proposed in the US National Research Council’s report ‘Toxicity Testing in the Twenty-First Century: A Vision and a Strategy’. To progress these next generation approaches, Unilever is actively involved in relevant OECD and other global activities, such as those on applying the adverse outcome pathway framework for assessing chemical safety.

Unilever’s safety scientists are playing a leading role in an EU Horizon 2020 research & innovation programme, EU-ToxRisk, to help drive the required paradigm shift in toxicological testing to non-animal, mechanism-based, chemical safety assessment.

Unilever was a founding member of the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to animal testing (EPAA), a voluntary collaboration between the European Commission, trade associations and companies from seven industry sectors. It promotes the development and implementation of alternative methods for safety testing. Unilever scientists are also involved in research on alternatives to animal testing conducted under the auspices of Cosmetics Europe (the European cosmetics trade association).

Over the past two years, one of Unilever’s science leaders has co-chaired the joint regulators & industry working group of the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation (ICCR) on integrated strategies for safety assessments of cosmetic ingredients. In their 2017 report (PDF| 700KB), the expert group outlines the principles that underpin the integration of novel (non-animal) methods and data in an exposure-led approach for the safety assessment of cosmetics ingredients.

In 2018 we announced a multi-year strategic partnership with Humane Society International (HSI), the global animal protection organisation. The partnership’s aims are twofold: to develop capability across companies and regulatory authorities so safety decisions for cosmetics are based on non-animal approaches; and to build capability for the long-term by investing in the training of our future safety scientists in non-animal ‘next generation’ risk assessments.

Information about our research strategy and partners is available on our Safety Science in the 21st Century website.

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