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Europe bans most severe animal tests for cosmetics

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May 4, 2007

For decades, posters depicting rabbits with inflamed, reddened eyes symbolised campaigns against the testing of cosmetics on animals. Now the most severe of those tests are to be banned across the European Union.

The so-called Draize tests are a series of notorious procedures that involve applying cosmetics ingredients to the eyes and skin of live laboratory rabbits. The animals' reactions are used to gauge whether the ingredient is an irritant or not. However, on 27 April the independent scientific advisory committee of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) in Ispra, Italy, approved a series of humane alternatives.

Two use waste animal tissue reclaimed from slaughterhouses to replace live animals in tests of whether chemicals might severely irritate the eyes. Two more will replace live animals with in vitro cell cultures for determining whether chemicals irritate the skin - procedures that are performed on an estimated 20,000 animals in Europe each year. A fifth alternative test, to identify whether chemicals will cause skin allergies, will spare hundreds of thousands of mice a year.

These humane alternatives have been available for commercial use for years, but to enforce their use, ECVAM has had to show they are as good as or better than the procedures on live animals they are to replace. Now that the committee has validated the alternatives, it will become illegal under the European Cosmetics Directive for cosmetic companies to continue to use live animals, and regulatory authorities in each member state will be forced to outlaw their use.

Despite these changes, cosmetics companies will still be allowed to test relatively mild chemicals on the eyes of live animals until further alternative tests are approved, or until 2009, when most cosmetic tests on live animals will be banned in Europe, regardless of whether alternatives have been approved or not.

From issue 2602 of New Scientist magazine, 04 May 2007, page 4

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