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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 everywhere we operate. 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.

For example, we are making good progress in developing a non-animal approach for assessing ingredients that may cause skin allergy. To encourage acceptance of this new approach 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 2016 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 US Society of Toxicology 55th annual meeting, where we shared progress on a research collaboration with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists to advance non-animal approaches for chemical risk assessment.

Unilever experts also played an active role in a China – EU training programme, involving the China Food & Drug Administrations (FDA) and UK Home Office, sharing how we use non-animal approaches for assessing the safety of cosmetics.

Our position

We use a wide range of non-animal approaches to assess the safety of our products for consumers. We do not test our products on animals and 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.

Occasionally, when there are no suitable non-animal approaches available, some of the ingredients we use have to be tested; and some governments test our products on animals as part of their regulatory requirements. We are actively working with these governments, other scientists and NGOs, to put in place alternative methods.

Over the past 30 years we have invested millions of Euros in research into non-animal approaches for assessing consumer safety. We have a team of internationally recognized scientific leaders in alternatives to animal testing in Unilever, who collaborate with the best research teams across the world on this important topic, so that new non-animal methods that start as ideas in our research laboratories are accepted by regulatory authorities and become standards for the industry.

Unilever's research investment

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 400 scientific articles on the development and application of alternative non-animal approaches, and regularly present our research at scientific conferences.

Since 2004 we have made an additional €3 million a year investment in an innovative research programme on novel non-animal approaches for assessing the consumer safety of ingredients in our products. Our current research focuses on finding alternative approaches for assessing the potential for chemicals to cause skin allergy and toxic effects following systemic exposure. During 2015, SEAC’s research on risk assessment approaches for assuring consumer safety without animal testing resulted in the publication of 22 scientific papers.

Partnerships

SEAC scientists are working with over 50 partners across the world on non-animal approaches to safety assessment, as 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 chemicals that may cause skin allergy.

Many Unilever scientists are involved in research conducted under the auspices of Cosmetics Europe (the European cosmetics trade association) on approaches to replace animal testing. As part of this work, Cosmetics Europe initiated a five-year research programme jointly with the European Commission and with a total of €50 million in research funding. ‘Safety Evaluation Ultimately Replacing Animal Testing’ (SEURAT), Unilever’s safety scientists are now playing a leading role in a follow-up 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). Launched in 2005, EPAA is 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.

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

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