National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Political Animals 2015: Kick Animal Testing Out of the House

Posted: 24 September 2015. Updated: 29 September 2015


It is over 15 years since the UK unilaterally banned the testing of cosmetics on animals, which was followed by a comprehensive EU-wide ban and a raft of replacement techniques being developed. This was a straightforward ethical issue, but the testing component was complex – these products are worn around the eyes and mouth and a brand of lipstick might continue to be ingested for a lifetime. Yet political will, responding to public concern, made it happen. Significantly, the EU prohibition was a driver for the development of new testing strategies – good for animals, good for science.

Unfortunately the UK ban on the testing of household products comes with rather more caveats, and so is far less clear-cut.

The previous Government made a clear commitment to outlaw such tests; over 140 MPs from all parties signed a motion in the House of Commons calling for ingredients to be included, and the Coalition Government Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone announced “The prohibition will apply to both finished household products and their ingredients, although in practice mainly the latter are tested.”

In March this year, Featherstone said: “I can today announce the Government’s intention to ban the testing of household products in animals with a qualified ban on the testing of ingredients which are primarily intended for use in household products. Where testing of ingredients is required for regulatory purposes, we will permit this but require retrospective notification. Where such testing is not required for regulatory purposes, we will require a prospective authorisation, specific to the particular proposal.”

The ingredients used in household products can also be used in other products and so there is potential for these ingredients to be covered by other regulatory requirements that demand animal testing. The new Conservative Government has therefore set up two procedures to deal with ingredients testing:

First, ingredients for which testing is required under other regulations will be reported by a system of ‘retrospective notification’. The animal tests can go ahead and the Home Office is notified afterwards. This is effectively no change to the current position except for the notification once the tests are complete.

We are not surprised by this caveat, but we are disappointed about the lack of oversight. Retrospective notification after the testing is done is a very poor policy – animals will suffer before any information about the species, the number of animals used and the severity of their suffering is reported to the Home Office.

The NAVS remains critical of the Home Office issuing large-scale ‘generic’ licences for commercial regulatory “safety” testing of products, where large numbers of animal tests proceed under a general licence, without prior assessment and authorisation by the Home Office.

This concept of large scale regulatory testing without specific scrutiny and oversight prior to the experiments proceeding goes against the entire notion of protection of animals in research. So it is very poor that in this scheme for elimination of household product testing, the same protocols used for regulatory testing have been applied when more vigorous scrutiny would have been expected. Furthermore, the testing company should be required to explain to the Home Office what regulation they are referencing, to justify the animal tests.

However, our most serious concern is the ingredients where the company wishes to test on animals, but there is no regulatory requirement for animal tests.

The second Home Office procedure, for these ingredients that are not required to be animal tested under other regulations, leaves it open to the company to apply for a permit to test the ingredient(s) on animals anyway. In these cases, the Home Office allows for ‘prospective application’ – the company makes a licence application to the Home Office before using animals. The application includes the justification for animal suffering and must be “sufficiently detailed to be assessed in a robust harm benefit analysis”. Thus, animal tests expected to cause pain and suffering for ingredients intended primarily for use in household products, can still be licensed. Even when there is no regulatory requirement for such tests.

The Home Office Advice Note in July 2015, expands: “If a project licence holder proposes to test an ingredient which is intended or expected to be used primarily in household products and for which there is no associated regulatory requirement for the testing (for example, if the substance is in the earlier stages of discovery), they will need to apply for an amendment to their project licence to specifically permit such testing.”

This opens the door to any testing of ingredients for household products, merely adding the inconvenience of having to complete a Home Office project licence application. Therefore we have a ‘ban’ on testing household products and their ingredients – with a huge loophole – if a new ingredient emerges that might get the whites in your wash whiter, then the Home Office decides whether to allow it to be animal tested. In secret; without public scrutiny, or independent evaluation. The Home Office letter introducing their Advice Note argues this caveat “will avoid stifling innovation but will only authorise the use of animals where that innovation can truly be justified.”

Read other articles from Political Animals 2015

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