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Crikey Clarifier: will we ban animal testing for cosmetics?

Parliament will consider a bill that would ban animal testing for Australian cosmetics. Crikey intern Ania Dutka finds out what the current situation is — and whether things are likely to change.

Testing cosmetics on animals remains legal in Australia, although there is a push to ban the practice. New South Wales Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon introduced a private members bill, Ban Cruel Cosmetics 2014, into federal Parliament earlier this week.

Although most testing does not take place in Australia, many beauty products on our shelves come from overseas and are tested on animals. Consumers may be surprised to discover a myriad of mainstream cosmetics brands such as Dove, Herbal Essences and Estee Lauder practise some form of animal testing …

What is happening in Australia?

Animal testing for cosmetics is legal in Australia, but it is rare because of regulatory hurdles. Cosmetics and their constituent ingredients are regulated like hazardous industrial chemicals by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme under the authority of the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act. There is no Commonwealth law that expressly bans cosmetic animal testing, but there are varied state-based regulations that interpret a national code for the use and care of animals for scientific purposes set by the National Health and Medical Research Council. To gain approval for such testing the suffering of the animal must be justified before an ethics committee, and in some cases testing could even require ministerial approval.

Accord Australasia, the national industry body for hygiene, cosmetic and specialty products, says the Australian cosmetic industry’s animal testing practices have changed dramatically over the past two decades and offer many cruelty-free options. But the majority of cosmetic products on sale in Australia come from overseas and have been tested on animals, particularly in China.

According to Be Cruelty-Free Australia, a not-for-profit organisation against animal testing, the cosmetic industry is not transparent when it comes to animal testing and subsequent labelling. Spokesperson Hannah Stuart said: “We don’t know what is happening or how it’s taking place.” Animal welfare groups say there are no reported government figures about animal testing in Australia.

What’s in the Greens bill?

The Ban Cruel Cosmetics Bill would prohibit the manufacture, sale and advertisement of cosmetics tested on animals. It would ban using and importing cosmetics or ingredients tested on animals overseas. It would not apply to any therapeutic goods under the Therapeutic Goods Act, including medicines. The sale and use of products and ingredients tested on animals before the bill came into effect would still be allowed.

How does this compare internationally?

The European Union, including the United Kingdom, has been phasing in a ban on cosmetics that are tested on animals since 2003. A complete ban took effect in March 2013; the EU now prohibits any testing, importing and marketing of new animal-tested cosmetics and ingredients. Israel similarly banned animal-tested cosmetics and ingredients and added a ban on household products with animal testing in January last year. India banned cosmetic animal testing in June 2013 and is moving towards prohibiting the sale of products tested on animals. Testing cosmetics on animals is still legal in the United States, but a bill introduced to Congress in March, the Humane Cosmetics Act, seeks to prohibit cosmetic testing in the US and gradually phase out the sale of cosmetics tested on animals overseas.

In spite of the global momentum, Animals Australia estimates the practice is still legal across 80% of the world — including the US and Australia.

Yeah, but what about China?

China is the only major market that currently requires mandatory animal testing for all cosmetic and toiletry products. The Humane Society International estimates over 300,000 animals were used across 17 laboratories in Chinese cosmetics testing during 2012-13. Domestic cosmetic companies only contribute to 20% of the market — the rest comprises global corporations like L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble.

Mandatory animal testing in China has been a problem for big companies wanting to access the market but to also advertise their products as “not tested on animals” or “cruelty free” outside China. For over a year the Body Shop has sold products in duty-free outlets in Beijing and Shanghai. A spokesperson for the Body Shop Australia, Shannon Chrisp, says the company believed duty-free shops in mainland China were governed by international law and not subject to mandatory animal testing. However, a Choice article last week reported Body Shop products might have been subject to post-market animal testing in China. Chrisp says the Body Shop has ceased duty-free trading for the time being until it’s clarified.

Now China has decided to move towards ending cosmetic animal testing. China is removing its mandatory animal testing requirements for domestically manufactured products as of June 2014. Under the new regulations, Chinese companies have the option to determine the safety of a cosmetic product based on existing data.

How much support is there to end animal testing for cosmetics here?

Rhiannon says she expects the bill to be a “fairly easy one” to get through the Senate and House of Representatives, and she’s counting on significant cross-party and industry support. Liberal MP Jason Wood has expressed support for the bill, although the formal positions of Labor and the Liberals haven’t been confirmed. According to a poll conducted by Nexus Research for Humane Research Australia, 81% of Australians believe Australia should ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals (it’s 85% among women).

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