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China Indicates End of Animal Testing for Imported Ordinary Cosmetics

Authorities provide groundwork for regulations to forgo pre-market testing by 2021, said Humane Society International.

SHANGHAI — China looks poised to remove a significant hurdle for beauty companies that support cruelty-free practices. The country is opening up a pathway so that imported ordinary cosmetics can forgo pre-market testing, newly seen regulations show, aimed to be implemented at the start of 2021.

“Effective Jan. 1, 2021, imported ordinary cosmetics such as shampoo, blush, mascara and perfume will no longer have to be animal-tested for eye and skin irritation in Chinese laboratories,” said Human Society International Friday.

Ordinary cosmetics make up the bulk of personal-care products imported into China, as opposed to special cosmetics — for instance, those used for hair and skin coloring, perming, sun protection, anti-hair loss, children’s products and cosmetics claiming new effects. The latter will still require animal testing in China.

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While the new regulations are not yet written in stone–there is a public consultation process and fine-print to be released on how companies can file and meet criteria to forgo the testing — it provides an important framework.

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“The signals are very strong, there’s no reason to believe we’re not on that trajectory,” said Humane Society International’s Troy Seidle, vice president of research and toxicology. “All the language is encouraging.”

PETA also commented that the organization was “cautiously optimistic” it would help to end a substantial number of tests conducted on animals.

“The regulation instructs China’s National Medical Products Association to formulate specific details for the testing requirements under the law,” PETA said. “It’s expected that the forthcoming rules will allow the sale of some imported cosmetics that won’t have to be tested on animals. If this is the case, we’ll celebrate the progress, as we have with every new measure that has spared animals poisoning tests in Chinese laboratories.

China has slowly tilted away from its reliance on animal testing. In 2014, it took similar steps allowing companies to avoid pre-market testing if products were locally manufactured. It also separately allows beauty and personal-care products to skip testing if sold online, instead of in physical stores. Then last December, it began a small pilot involving seven brands in which the companies could physically retail in China and retain Leaping Bunny certification.

While this is a marked shift in the direction of cruelty-free, the move, if it goes ahead, does not prevent post-market testing and so will still fall short of the cruelty-free standard set by several NGO groups.

Nonetheless, it would help save tens of thousands of animals’ lives, Human Society International said.

Currently, China imposes three animal tests — one for eye irritation and two for skin irritation — subjecting three rabbits to each test. If calculating based off the 13,000 new ordinary cosmetics registrations seen in 2013, the last year for which data is available, the total of rabbits used in a given year is as many as 120,000. In a post-market testing scenario, only a handful of animals would be tested in the unlikely event of a consumer complaint or product recall, if ever.

“Although the concern doesn’t go away entirely, the relative amount of progress if we look at the numbers we can calculate when this goes through and companies have an alternative to the mandatory pre-market testing, it is a significant step toward cosmetics in China.…It’s a big deal,” Seidle said.

Seidle added that non-animal testing methods are far more advanced and allow for faster results, in addition to reducing related costs such as animal and veterinarian care.


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