European Court decision renders ban on animal testing for cosmetics virtually meaningless

Symrise AG lose appeal against European Chemicals Agency decision requiring animal testing on cosmetics ingredients

Animal protection organisation Cruelty Free International (CFI) has expressed anger and disbelief at decisions made today by the General Court of the European Court of Justice to force German cosmetics manufacturer Symrise AG to conduct animal testing[1] on two existing ingredients used exclusively in sunscreens. Last year, Cruelty Free International was allowed to intervene in the appeals on behalf of SymriseAG.

This decision renders the European Union and United Kingdom bans on animal testing for cosmetics virtually meaningless, as animal testing requirements to analyse the safety of new chemicals – as laid out in the EU’s main chemicals legislation, REACH, and enforced by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) – have been adjudged to take precedence over the bans on the testing of cosmetics ingredients on animals. Cosmetics ingredients, as chemicals, fall within REACH as well as the Cosmetics Regulation which contains bans on animal testing.

The ruling acknowledges that, under Article 25 of REACH, manufacturers should “generate information obtained by means other than animal testing ‘whenever possible’ and to undertake such testing ‘only as a last resort’” – in other words, where there are no non-animal alternatives.

However, the General Court ruled that animal tests have to be carried out under REACH where there are no such alternatives, as ECHA often claims is the position. In fact, the testing bans in the Cosmetics Regulation apply irrespective of whether there are alternatives. The Court, wrongly in CFI’s view, sidestepped a provision in REACH which says that the REACH testing requirements apply ‘without prejudice’ to the cosmetics bans – in other words, those bans should take precedence. The ruling therefore turns on its head what EU citizens have been promised. The cosmetics bans were introduced before REACH – hence the need for the ‘without prejudice’ clause.

It was under REACH that, in 2018, ECHA told Symrise AG that they were required to test these chemicals on animals. Subsequently, this was used by the UK government as justification for its abandonment of the 1998 ban on animal testing for cosmetics[2].

The two ultraviolet light filters involved, homosalate and 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, are solely used as ingredients in sunscreens. The toxicity testing required by ECHA will involve over 5,500 animals, including rats, rabbits and fish, being force-fed the ingredients in tests causing a high degree of suffering before being killed and dissected.

Symrise AG’s initial appeal against the requirements to conduct animal testing on these chemicals, held in 2021, had been dismissed by ECHA’s own Board of Appeal. Symrise AG then took their case to the General Court.

Over 1.2 million people recently demanded the protection and strengthening of the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics by signing the ‘Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics’ European Citizens’ Initiative, which was launched in August 2021 by a coalition of European animal protection groups including Cruelty Free International.

In response, the European Commission promised to start planning the total phase-out of animal testing for all chemicals – but failed to address the issues around cosmetics raised in the ECI, which highlighted the conflict between the cosmetics testing bans and REACH regulations.

Cruelty Free International’s Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, Dr Emma Grange, said: “This decision is a huge backwards step in our fight to stop animals suffering and dying in the name of beauty. The existing bans, which have been in place in the UK for 25 years and European Union for two decades, are now virtually meaningless, as this case will set a damaging precedent in toxicity testing for cosmetics ingredients, even if they have been approved as safe for use for many years.

“Over 1.2 million European citizens expected that their demands would be heard when they signed our ECI, but they clearly have not. The public has every right to feel their trust in the cosmetics bans has been undermined. The European Union has promised to start to draw up a roadmap for the total phase-out of chemicals animal testing in Europe. We need the EU to come clean with the public that if the cosmetics testing bans remain so toothless then we are not as far along that path as they thought. The process now needs to be accelerated, irrespective of any further appeal in the courts.”