The EU banned the sale of new cosmetic products containing ingredients tested on animals with immediate effect on Monday.
“This is a great opportunity for Europe to set an example of responsible innovation in cosmetics without any compromise on consumer safety,” EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg said.
Animal rights groups were quick to cheer the measure, but Cosmetics Europe, a trade body representing the EU’s 71 billion euro (US$93 billion) cosmetics industry, said that the ban “acts as a brake on innovation.”
While the rabbits, mice or guinea pigs used in testing will now be spared, consumers are unlikely to notice immediate changes because products containing ingredients that were tested on animals before the ban can remain on the shelves.
The European Commission said that the decision “is in line with what many European citizens believe firmly: that the development of cosmetics does not warrant animal testing.”
The EU has banned animal testing of finished cosmetic products since 2004. The ban on cosmetics containing animal-tested ingredients was first decided four years ago, but initially left loopholes for certain tests following resistance from cosmetics companies.
At the moment, neither the US nor Asian markets have similar bans in place. While the US Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale of unsafe cosmetics, it does not require that animal tests be conducted to show that the cosmetics are safe.
Animal rights groups such as Humane Society International cheered the EU’s decision on the full ban as a major step in stopping animals’ suffering, saying the bloc has now become “the world’s largest cruelty-free cosmetics market.”
The group also said it hopes the course taken by the EU — whose nations combined form the world’s biggest economy — will soon be replicated by the global cosmetics industry.
The phasing out of animal testing over the years in Europe has resulted in a dramatic drop in such activity among US cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers looking to sell overseas. US beauty product makers generated about US$38.3 billion in revenue in 2011, according to the latest statistics from Personal Care Products Council, a Washington-based industry trade group.
“This had an impact on the US cosmetic industry,” said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of laboratory investigation for activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It also ushered in a whole new era of non-animal science.”
However, Cosmetics Europe the ban threatens the industry’s competitiveness and comes too early because there are still no alternatives for some animal tests that ensure the safety of ingredients.
Cosmetics Europe director-general Bertil Heerink said “by implementing the ban at this time, the European Union is jeopardizing the industry’s ability to innovate,” putting the bloc at odds with its own goal of fostering a knowledge and science-driven economy.
European cosmetic companies had a combined revenue of 71 billion euros in 2010 and directly employed about 180,000 people, the commission said.
The commission said it will engage with trading partners like the US and China “to explain and promote the European model and to work towards the international acceptance” of the ban.
“The commission will make this an integral part of the [European] Union’s trade agenda and international cooperation,” it said.