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EU to ban animal-tested cosmetics

Cosmetic industry will have to switch to alternatives to animal testing such as test-tube methods.
Cosmetic industry will have to switch to alternatives to animal testing such as test-tube methods.

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STRASBOURG, France -- The European Parliament has passed a law banning the testing of cosmetics on animals within the EU -- despite huge resistance by the make-up industry.

The ban on most animal tests will take effect in 2009 under a compromise deal agreed between the parliament and European Union member states in November.

The law passed on Wednesday will also outlaw the sale in the EU of cosmetics that have been tested on animals in other parts of the world.

But the European cosmetic industry, which has sales totalling 44 billion euros a year ($39 billion), has secured an extension to 2013 for three areas of toxicity testing to allow time for alternatives to be developed -- 20 years after the European Commission first proposed the ban in 1993.

"This proposal puts animal welfare above human vanity, but never above human health," Phillip Whitehead of the European Parliament's socialist grouping told deputies.

"To come to this final conclusion is an enormous satisfaction for all of us," the British MEP said.

The ban must be approved by the 15 EU member states, but that is seen as a formality in the weeks ahead following the November compromise agreed in marathon talks.

Cosmetics, from hand creams to lipstick and perfumes, are tested for a wide range of unwanted side effects. Animal welfare groups say 38,000 animals die needlessly in the EU every year in tests for new products.

Britain, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands have already banned cosmetics tests on animals, but unlike the EU law, such bans did nothing to stop products tested on animals being imported from abroad. Most of Europe's cosmetic testing is carried out in France and Italy.

Compromise criticised

Many EU governments initially resisted parliament's push for a product ban, saying it could put the European bloc at risk of a trade dispute from exporter countries. But the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said the law was sound.

The cosmetics industry was less sure. "We don't know what the reaction of the Americans and Japanese will be," Annick Colman of Colipa, the European Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association, told Reuters.

Industry would find it "extremely challenging" to find alternative testing methods by 2009, she added. "If we don't find alternatives, we will have less ingredients to work with."

Animal welfare groups also criticised the compromise, saying a loophole could allow some tests beyond 2013.

The law, which will not ban existing products that have been tested on animals in the past, will force cosmetics makers to switch to alternatives to animal testing such as test-tube methods if those are shown to be effective.

Most types of tests will be banned from 2009, but Reuters reported that three toxicity tests can continue until at least 2013 -- longer if deemed necessary -- because scientists say it is difficult to find alternatives.

"The 'get out clause' potentially allows industry to side-step a total sales ban by claiming that insufficient non-animal tests are available," said Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

"The cosmetics industry has lobbied aggressively to water down these proposals already, and I doubt we've heard the last of them on this issue."

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