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Taking a humane look at cosmetics

2013-12-20 10:50 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing
A researcher at a L'Oreal laboratory in Shanghai works on a reconstructed skin model that can be used to test cosmetics. [Provided to China Daily]

A researcher at a L'Oreal laboratory in Shanghai works on a reconstructed skin model that can be used to test cosmetics. [Provided to China Daily]

  Nation reconsiders rules for mandatory animal testing

China is considering ways to reduce animal testing of cosmetics.

The China Food and Drug Administration issued a draft last month related to changes in the registration and licensing of cosmetics, following a ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing from the European Union in March.

The draft stated that cosmetics made from ingredients that have already been tested and classified as safe will be exempt from animal testing.

Even though the draft regulation, set to come into force in June, does not apply to cosmetics manufactured outside the Chinese mainland, or to "special-use" products such as hair dyes, sunscreens or skin-whitening products, it's been hailed as a breakthrough by animal rights groups.

"The news from China marks a major milestone in our campaign and could constitute a significant watershed in our global efforts to end cosmetics animal testing worldwide," said Troy Seidle, the Humane Society International's Be Cruelty-Free director, in an online news statement.

The Body Shop, Lush, MooGoo and other companies, plus the United States-based non-profit organization Humane Society International, have campaigned for decades for the mandatory testing of cosmetics on animals to be phased out worldwide.

Many cosmetic companies, such as The Body Shop and Lush, have turned down lucrative opportunities in the Chinese mainland on ethical grounds because in China all imported cosmetics products are subject to mandatory tests that use animals as the subjects.

Wang Yiwen, a financial consultant at Deutsche Bank in Beijing, is a loyal customer of The Body Shop, but like all the brand's fans in China, she either has to rely on friends traveling overseas or on agents at online marketplaces to make her purchases.

"It's a pity they haven't officially entered the Chinese mainland market yet. Most people I know have to buy their products through online agents," said Wang.

"We are delighted to hear that the Chinese government is looking at its policies regarding animal testing. Many animals could be saved from pain and death by these changes. For Lush, it brings the day nearer when we can, perhaps, trade in China," wrote Hilary Jones, global ethical director for the UK cosmetics producer Lush Retail, in an e-mailed comment.

The Humane Society International estimates that around 300,000 animals are used every year in cosmetics testing in China. The country's stance on animal testing remains the biggest hurdle to the promotion of alternative methods, according to experts.

"Currently, China has no law or regulation requiring alternative methods to be made mandatory, so there hasn't been a huge uptake of those methods," said Jiao Hong, director of the food laboratory at Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

Strict safety tests

The Hygienic Standards for Cosmetics, China's guidelines for safety tests on cosmetics, were introduced by the former Ministry of Health in 2007.

The methods specified by the regulation, which is based on guidelines drawn up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, require that all cosmetic products be subjected to 17 animal-based toxicological tests, such as those for acute oral toxicity, acute eye irritation, skin sensitization and a combined test for chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity.

The skin sensitization test uses 20 guinea pigs as samples and a further 10 as "controls", that is, they don't undergo the tests. Cosmetics are repeatedly applied to a shaved area on the subject animal's back, the condition of the skin is then compared with its control and any changes are noted.

In the combined chronic toxicity/carcinogenicity test, both the test and control groups comprise 100 animals, a 50-50 split of males and females. The tests are conducted continually throughout the animals' life spans, usually about a year.

Li Hua, president of Animal Guardians, a nongovernmental animal rights group, said the problems associated with the protection of lab animals stem from the fact that the general public knows little about what happens in the labs.

"Even animal right activists such as my organization are unable to gain access to inside information, so the industry is effectively closed to outsiders," she said.

Improvements in animal welfare were first introduced by the Ministry of Science and Technology, which issued China's first guidelines on the humane treatment of lab animals -including advice on breeding, transportation and the conduct of the experiments - in October 2006.

Since then, the authorities in a number of areas, including the provinces of Guangdong and Hubei, and Beijing, have formulated their own regulations.

Compared with the laws and regulations in Western countries, though, some species have been omitted from the list covered by the test regulations, according to He Zhengming, a researcher with the National Institutes for Food and Drug Control.

In an article published in 2011, he noted that the national and local standards include the most-commonly used species, but fail to cover animals such as Mongolian gerbils and domestic cats.

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