What The Hell Is Happening To The UK’s Ban on Animal Testing For Cosmetics?

What The Hell Is Happening To The UK’s Ban on Animal Testing For Cosmetics?

We all know the UK banned testing cosmetic products on animals in the 90s, right?

Of course we did. It’s a totally unnecessary cruelty and exploitation of the sentient creatures we are blessed to share a world with.

I mean, it wasn’t just vegans and animal activists who opposed this, was it? Hardly anyone in the UK and wider Europe thought animal testing for cosmetic products could be justified. The great majority still don’t.

So, it’s a good thing we banned that way back in 1997 then isn’t it and -

Sorry, what’s that?

Did someone say - ‘not anymore?’

Did The UK Just Make Cosmetic Animal Testing Legal Again?

Firstly, it’s important to note that the ban on animal testing for cosmetics came about through a voluntary initiative from the industry which led to the withdrawal of licenses to test cosmetic ingredients on living creatures. Why is this important?

It’s a little like Roe v Wade - because it has been protected by policies and clauses in legislation the ban has always been somewhat fragile. However, in 1997 in the UK it did become illegal to sell or market cosmetic products where animal testing had taken place on the finished cosmetic or its ingredients. This was later adopted into EU legislation.

Yet, in 2020 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) amended the rules and since the UK has chosen to comply with this (even since leaving the EU) it has been revealed that the government has been using this amendment to issue licences for animal testing of cosmetic ingredients. Curiously though, according to the BBC and The Guardian, this is being claimed to have been happening since 2019 which predates the EU rule amendment. Unfortunately, I have been unsuccessful in finding an explanation for this, although it is an emerging story so reports are still a little vague (follow me on LinkedIn to keep updated).

Does This Mean My Cosmetic Have Been Tested On Animals?

Not if they’re Olive & Joyce products! But probably not even if you don’t shop exclusively with us.

So, it is still illegal for manufacturers to test cosmetic products and ingredients on animals to ensure they’re safe for consumers. This has not been a problem since there are safe cruelty-free alternatives for cosmetic product testing. Where it gets complicated is more of an issue of workers' safety.

mouse in animal testing cosmetics lab

The amendment from the ECHA, which oversee chemical regulation, dictated that companies needed to use animal testing to ensure that some ingredients used in cosmetics to ensure they were safe for workers handling the ingredients. Therefore, yes, animal testing can legally be part of the process of manufacturing cosmetics. We also have not been able to find out which ingredients are subject to animal testing before being approved as safe for workers manufacturing the products.

This makes it difficult to determine how big of an issue this is, which products have been through this process and why it has been deemed necessary after all this time. Furthermore, even during the high court hearing it was not disclosed just how many licenses have been issued by the UK government, under this amendment.

My two cents though? If an ingredient is potentially harmful enough that animal testing has been deemed ‘necessary’ before a manufacturer handles it (probably with PPE on), then it likely has no business being applied to your skin.

Did The UK Government Mislead The Public On Animal Testing?

No hunny, they didn’t lie, they just didn’t tell you. That’s totally different, right? That makes it ok.

Ok, sarcasm parked - Early in May of this year, Cruelty Free International (CFI) took the Home Office to the high court over allegations they ‘secretly’ abandoned the ban on testing cosmetic product ingredients on animals. CFI did not win. However, although the Home Office were found not to have acted unlawfully, the judge called the government’s failure to publicly announce this policy change, ‘regrettable’ and ‘a matter of concern’.

Clearly, this is a matter that cannot go unresolved. Consumers have a right to know if their products have been tested on animals in any part of the process, even before manufacturing.

On Thursday 11th May, Rishi Sunak insisted that in the UK ‘the ban on using animals to test cosmetic products or ingredients for the consumer remains completely in force,’ adding, ‘there are absolutely no plans to change that.’ Only, that’s not actually the issue here. The issue is that it has become lawful to test on animals to protect the workers manufacturing the products. 

Just because it is not deemed to be for the benefit of the consumer does not change the fact that animal testing is taking place. I doubt those who are firmly against animal testing in the making of cosmetics will see much of a distinction. I know I don’t.

This isn’t to say I don’t care about workers' rights and safety. Of course I do, which is why I’m so meticulous about my supply chain and ensuring everything Olive & Joyce produce is done so ethically. However, I can’t imagine putting anything in my products I would be at all concerned about handling myself.

Will This Policy Be Reversed?

That’s difficult to say. It’s still not getting enough press so we need to spread the word. Please help us do so by sharing this article.

Cruelty Free International are still very much on the case and is putting pressure on the Home Office to disclose more information. They're also requesting the government reinstate the complete ban on cosmetic animal testing.

As consumers, we’re definitely not being given enough information here and so far as I can see, a product that has been granted a license to carry out this testing can still be labelled as ‘cruelty-free’. Therefore, if this issue is of concern to you, I urge you to avoid buying cosmetics with highly chemical ingredients, as those would be the ones most likely to have been tested on animals under this amended policy. Meanwhile, we’ll be following this story closely and will keep you updated.

Want these stories straight to your inbox? Don’t forget to subscribe (link in the footer).

Cruelty Free Cosmetics Make-Up And Notepad Saying Cruelty Free
Back to blog