No new licences will be granted for animal testing of chemicals used exclusively as ingredients in cosmetic products, the government has said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced the UK ban on Wednesday (17 May) as she promised the government will “undertake work” to “protect animals from unnecessary harm” in the longer-term.
It comes after it recently emerged that the UK has been granting licences for animal testing since 2019 in certain circumstances in line with the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulations. This is despite the UK leaving the European Union in 2020.
Braverman conceded that “a small number of time-limited licences” were issued between 2019 and 2022 in line with separate European chemicals rules.
The rules allow as a last resort the testing of some chemicals used in cosmetics on animals when there is no other way to assess risks to workers in the manufacturing process and the environment.
Braverman said the UK ban on animal testing for consumer safety of cosmetics ingredients, which came into effect in 1998, still remains in force.
In a statement, she said: “I can inform the House that the government is taking action to seek alternatives to animal testing for worker and environmental safety of chemicals used exclusively as cosmetic ingredients.
“The government recognises the public concern around the testing on animals of chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics, and the new opportunities available to us to depart from the EU testing regime.
“I can confirm, therefore, that from today no new licences will be granted for animal testing of chemicals that are exclusively intended to be used as ingredients in cosmetics products.”
The government is also working to “review the effective administration of the ban over the longer term” which would have “due regard of the needs of the science industry, the need to ensure worker and environmental safety, and the need to protect animals from unnecessary harm”, she added.
Animal welfare and cosmetics groups, including the RSPCA charity, welcomed the statement after calling for an end to the practice.
Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, said she “was pleased to meet with the Home Secretary” and was “able to provide a united voice on the importance of applying robust scientific approaches, that avoid the use of animals, for protecting the safety of workers involved in the manufacture of cosmetics ingredients.”
She added: “These cutting-edge approaches have been used over the last decade to protect the safety of consumers and it is a regulatory contradiction that they are not used for the purposes of worker safety not least because exposure is tightly controlled in UK factories.”
Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the RSPCA’s animals in science department, told BBC News the public were concerned and strongly against the use of animals to test cosmetics.
She said: "The outrage following the UK government’s decision to quietly follow European Union chemical testing rules really reinforces just how important this issue is to the public and we are pleased that outcry has been listened to.”
According to RSPCA research 76% of UK adults are very concerned about the use of animals in scientific research and testing, and 79% agree that more needs to be done to speed up the development of alternative experiments that do not use animals.