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25 years ago in response to public pressure concerning animal welfare in the cosmetics industry a ban on cosmetic testing on animals was introduced. The text of that motion:

That this House welcomes the ban on cosmetic testing on animals which was confirmed by the Home Office on 16th November; notes that this ban prevents the testing of finished cosmetic products, but, more importantly, now includes a ban on the testing of ingredients; congratulates the Government and companies which have voluntarily agreed to give up their licences; and hopes that the Government will invest in projects to find an alternative to the use of animals in scientific research in the future.

It seems clear that the idea was to improve animal welfare by preventing animal testing being carried out in the development of cosmetics.

It is in the news that the UK does allows animal testing for cosmetics when that is to ensure the safety of workers., and have for some time. The example given is homosalate, a common sunscreen ingredient and used in many foundations and skincare products. From my brief reading we can determine that homosalate is not biologically active at the levels a consumer is exposed to, but it may have a cancer causing effect at levels workers are exposed to. Animal testing is required to further examine this effect if the chemical is to be produced in the EU.

My understanding of the law is that if the biological effect was at the levels a consumer is exposed to the product would not be allowed to be used as a cosmetic. The reason for this is to stop animals suffering for us to have access to cosmetics. However because the biological effect is at levels workers are exposed to animal testing is fine and we get access to these cosmetics. Presumably the former has happened many times over the last 25 years, new chemicals have been developed for cosmetics and they are not allowed in the UK because of the animal testing requirement.

I do not see the logic here. If the law is to protect the animals, the effect on the animals and the alternative remedy is the same whether the testing is for the consumer or the worker, why is the law so radically different? There does seem to be an obvious problem with access to a product required for suncream, but there is the obvious solution of classing sun cream as health and safety equipment or a medicine and therefore not covered by the ban.

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  • As Brezhnev has once said to Rajkin, "Arkasha, don't search for logic". Why would you expect to have it in politics, which basically a loose set of motions that could be made pass.
    – alamar
    May 6, 2023 at 16:10

2 Answers 2

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It seems clear that the idea was to improve animal welfare by preventing animal testing being carried out in the development of cosmetics.

Indeed but it is equally important that the people working to develop and manufacture these have their welfare looked out for. The EU put in rules to allow testing related to these activities, when exposure is at a much higher level than the end user, and the UK has fallen in line. This approach has been ruled as legal by the High Court.

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Clearly the rights granted to animals have to be balanced with the rights granted to people - if not for a principled reason, then simply for the reason that people have political power in human society, and animals do not (except by the political power of an animal rights lobby).

A large number of cosmetics are essentially spurious, and any sustained psychological effect gained from them could often be equally gained by banning advertisements which promote their use (by promoting the very insecurities these products sooth), and by achieving a reduction in popular use which would ease peer pressure and would increase the occasions on which skin without cosmetic treatment is encountered (making it more normal to display untreated skin).

From that point of view, consumer cosmetics are not normally considered a good reason for animals to suffer, and the varieties of snake oil which the cosmetics industry may attempt to sell, might promote a particularly large amount of animal suffering in testing all kinds of speculative nonsense.

When workers are required to wear or encounter cosmetics however, it is typically at far greater exposures than consumers, and they typically have limited discretion over the existence or terms of those encounters. The worker may have no particular desire for the exposure to cosmetics, and simply does so as part of their occupation.

Because larger exposures are associated with more risk, and because the worker does not choose like the consumer (i.e. any choice the worker can make, is bundled up with choices about their livelihood), there is considered to be less justification that workers should suffer occupational exposure to harmful substances instead of animals (when starting from a point where nobody knows what is and isn't harmful).

It is also quite likely that the corporate lobby pushed for the exception, since they are typically financially responsible for physical harm to workers, and therefore will have asked why they should be compelled to take responsibility but have no power to discover what is harmful to workers and under what circumstances.

The cosmetic industry might also reason that tests done for worker exposure effectively stands in for the tests that would be done for consumer exposure.

Finally, the law itself may be missold. It's not unheard of for legislators to make a big fuss about nibbling at the edges, whilst essentially leaving corporate practices untouched.

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  • I am not sure of the logic in "limited discretion over the existence or terms of those encounters". If this chemical required animal testing to be safe to consumers no one would get a choice about using it, it would be banned.
    – User65535
    May 7, 2023 at 12:02
  • @User65535, I'm sorry I don't quite understand what you're saying. Animal testing doesn't make things safe - it provides information about the dangerousness. Virtually everything on consumer sale has been tested at some point - and not just in conventional ways but also non-standard ways. I wouldn't be surprised if butter has at some point been tested rectally, for example.
    – Steve
    May 7, 2023 at 12:13
  • Homosalate is known safe at consumer levels but needs animal testing to determine if it is safe for workers. If it was unsafe at consumer levels it would be banned. It could be banned now and both workers and animals would be protected. Why is a different answer come to?
    – User65535
    May 7, 2023 at 12:22
  • @User65535, I imagine it's because workers may have far higher exposures. For a sunscreen product, consumers are likely to use it only occasionally - those potentially needing regular use would probably just shelter from the sun. Whereas if you're a roadworker for example, you can't shelter, and you're outside for a full shift, day after day, summer after summer.
    – Steve
    May 7, 2023 at 12:32
  • Yes, I am sure you are right. I would still be solved by banning as would be done if it was the consumer affected.
    – User65535
    May 7, 2023 at 12:33

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