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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 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 by our suppliers to comply with relevant regulations; and some governments test our products on animals as part of their regulatory requirements. We are actively working with regulatory authorities, NGOs and other scientists across the world, to share the non-animal safety assessment approaches we use within Unilever.

We have a team of internationally recognized scientific leaders in non-animal approaches for assessing consumer safety in Unilever. They collaborate with the best research teams across the world on this important topic, ensuring that new safety assessment tools and approaches that start as ideas in our research laboratories are accepted by regulatory authorities and become standards for the industry.

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.

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

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