By and  on March 19, 2012

SHANGHAI — China’s State Food and Drug Administration, or SFDA, has released a draft proposal approving the use of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics.

This is the first time the SFDA, which oversees the testing and registration of all domestically and internationally produced cosmetics on sale in China, has seriously considered changing its regulations to allow non-animal testing alternatives for cosmetics.

The proposal is under review while the SFDA consults with interested parties, one of whom is Professor Zhao Hua, who is head of the China Cosmetics Research Center, or CCRC, at Beijing Technology and Business University.

“With the fast development of the economy, animal welfare and protection are becoming more popular,” he said, adding that the SFDA has already undertaken considerable research over the past 12 months into testing alternatives.

April Guo, head of the Chemical Inspection and Regulation Service’s cosmetic registration and cosmetic ingredient assessment team in China, is confident non-animal testing alternatives will eventually be implemented. “On the 10th of February, the SFDA issued a notice saying an alternative method is being explored, but we don’t know when it will come into force and the SFDA has always said that it will take a long time to use primarily alternative testing methods in China,” Guo said.

International cosmetic brands who want to import their products into China have to undergo stringent registration and licensing procedures, often using a company such as Guo’s CIRS to help them navigate China’s intricacies and bureaucracy. Any ingredient that has not previously been made available on the Chinese market is required to undergo a number of tests before it is licensed, including some conducted on animals.

This regulation has become problematic for some international companies, which had previously committed to abandoning animal testing, but must now allow animal testing to gain access to the massive Chinese cosmetics market. Animal testing in China has recently become a hot-button issue in the U.S., where a class action lawsuit was filed in the central district of California on Feb. 28 against the Estée Lauder Cos., Inc., Avon Products Inc. and Mary Kay Inc.

International experts in the field of animal research, such as Anthony James, who is head of the Laboratory Animal Services Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believe that regulations based on a utilitarian model of cost-benefit analysis should be adopted by China, in order to bring the country in line with international practices. “Cosmetics are by and large not a medical product saving lives. It’s not a need, it’s a want. There has to be a higher bar set for animal testing for cosmetics and it shouldn’t be permissible at all where there are alternatives,” he added.

Alternative testing methods are becoming increasingly accurate and the 3T3 NRU phototoxicity test method, the method currently being considered by the SFDA, is already widely accepted internationally.

It has become an issue in China with the emergence of widespread media campaigns that decry animal cruelty in traditional medicine and popular food, including shark’s fin soup.

However, James Roy, a senior analyst at China Market Research Group, said, “It’s an issue that has quite low awareness among Chinese consumers. Animal protection and related issues aren’t one of the main things that comes into Chinese consumers’ minds when they’re buying cosmetics,” Roy said, citing product safety as the number-one concern for consumers in a country constantly plagued by safety scandals.

As with many things in China, economic concerns, rather than moral ones, are likely to be the driver for change. One particularly pressing concern for China’s cosmetics industry is the European Commission’s Cosmetics Directive, which aims to phase out animal testing for all cosmetic products on sale in the European Union. Like products from other countries, Chinese-made cosmetics that are tested on animals will be banned for sale in the EU as of March 2013.

“I think this is the big challenge for Chinese manufacturers and this is why the SFDA is under a lot of pressure to handle this situation,” Guo said.

There also is pressure being applied by the California lawsuit, which alleges that Lauder, Avon and Mary Kay resumed animal testing of cosmetics in order to enter the Chinese market, despite claiming in the U.S. that their products are “cruelty free.”

Plaintiffs Marina Beltran, Maria Rodriguez, Janna Herrera, Jenna Anderlie and Trasse Faria are suing the cosmetics companies for fraud, unfair business practices, false advertising and violations of California’s consumers legal remedies act. They are seeking injunctive relief and also looking for $100 million in damages, not to mention punitive damages and other compensation.

Lauder stoutly defended its policies. “More than 20 years ago, we were one of the first companies to end animal testing to substantiate the safety of our products,” a Lauder spokeswoman told WWD in response to the lawsuit. “It is important that we share with you that our commitment to end animal testing everywhere has not changed. Our products are not tested on animals except when absolutely mandated by law. We are committed to the universal acceptance of non-animal test methods with the goal of eliminating animal testing. We will continue to invest in scientific research to promote acceptance of non-animal test methods by authorities around the world.”

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