Is animal testing illegal in the UK? Government cracks down on makeup testing licences

Animal testing has faced criticism from ethical and animal welfare perspectives, but  proponents argue it’s necessary for medical breakthroughs and other scientific advancements  (PA Archive)
Animal testing has faced criticism from ethical and animal welfare perspectives, but proponents argue it’s necessary for medical breakthroughs and other scientific advancements (PA Archive)

The Government has outlawed the issuing of licences for animal testing of chemicals used as ingredients in cosmetics products.

Despite a 25-year ban on the practice, the Government had permitted “a small number of time-limited licences” for animal testing of cosmetic components.

According to a recent court decision, the Government modified its animal testing strategy to comply with European Union (EU) chemical regulations.

But Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a written statement to Parliament on Wednesday (May 17) that no new licences will be granted.

In China and the US, for instance, there is no law banning the use of animals in cosmetic testing.

But what’s the situation in the UK and what is animal testing? Here’s what you need to know.

What is animal testing?

Animal testing, also known as animal experimentation or vivisection, refers to the use of live animals in scientific experiments for research purposes. It involves subjecting animals to various procedures and tests to gather data or evaluate the safety, effectiveness, or potential side effects of drugs, chemicals, cosmetics, or other products.

Animal testing has historically been conducted in areas such as biomedical research, pharmaceutical development, toxicology studies, and cosmetic testing. Animals commonly used in experiments include mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and primates. These animals may be subjected to procedures like injections, force-feeding, surgical interventions, exposure to toxins, or behavioural tests.

What are the arguments for and against animal testing?

Proponents argue that animal testing is necessary for scientific advancement, medical breakthroughs, and ensuring consumer safety. They argue that it helps to understand biological mechanisms, develop treatments, and assess potential risks before human trials. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, HIV, and Aids have all been studied via animal testing.

However, animal testing has also faced criticism from ethical and animal welfare perspectives. Critics argue that it causes unnecessary suffering to animals and that alternative testing methods should be utilised. They also say the results may not always accurately translate to humans due to biological differences between species.

Is animal testing illegal in the UK?

As reported by the BBC on May 16, animal testing generally is not banned in the UK. However, it is illegal to use animals if there is another way of conducting research.

New medicines must be tested, by law, on animals before being tested on humans.

Since 1998, there has been a ban against testing beauty products and cosmetics on animals.

The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986, also known as “Aspa,” outlines the laws governing research involving animals.

The laws are enforced by the Home Office.

Only under very strict guidelines is it possible to obtain a licence from the Home Office to work with animals. To make sure that laws are not broken, the Home Office employs a system of inspections.

This means animal testing still takes place for “scientific studies” or for the creation and breeding of genetically altered (GA) animals.

What about the ban on animal testing licences for makeup?

In 2020, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) ruled that companies had to test some cosmetic chemicals on animals to make sure they were safe for the people who made the ingredients.

According to new information released earlier this month, the Government had given licences for animal testing of cosmetic chemicals even after leaving the EU in 2020.

The BBC reported even earlier records of animal testing carried out in the UK in 2017. Some 87 per cent of those experimental procedures used mice (around 1.09 million), fish (around 308,000) and rats (around 230,000).

What is the future of animal testing?

There is an ongoing global debate surrounding the use of animals in research. Efforts are being made to reduce and replace animal testing with alternative methods such as in vitro tests, computer modelling, and human cell-based studies.