Cosmetic Products

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The Chairman: We now have until 11.30 am for questions. I remind members of the Committee that questions should be brief. If hon. Members wish to ask several questions, there should be ample opportunity for that.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I have two linked questions that relate to the Minister's letter of 4 February to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee about alternative tests. The Minister wrote helpfully that some alternatives had been found, although not manyonly two or three. The letter said that work was proceeding on four or five further tests. However, even if that is taken at face value, what does the Minister understand to be the latest position on the other nine tests out of the total of 14 that are currently used on animals?

Secondly, will the Minister tell us about the dangers to consumers that she has been advised will occur because of the absence of valid alternatives to all but two of the tests?

Miss Johnson: There are 14 tests in total. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative MethodsECVAMhas validated alternative tests for skin corrosion and phototoxicity. There is a validated OECD alternative

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to a test for mutagenicity. However, draft guidelines await OECD acceptance on alternatives for five of the existing tests. Work has started on achieving validation for four further tests. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the European Commission is working on a timetable for a work programme that will address alternatives to the remaining tests. Obviously, there is a lot to be learned about the development of the tests, but progress is being made.

The hon. Gentleman asked about risks to consumers. If non-animal testing alternatives are not available, animal testing will continue to be used.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): The Minister outlined the timetable of the amendments. If the seventh amendment is not made European law by June, the sixth amendment will become law, which will open up WTO challenges. There is an indication that there will be a Second Reading at the European Parliament. Has that occurred, or is it timetabled?

Miss Johnson: I can give only limited help to my hon. Friend by telling him that we are not aware that the European Parliament has fixed a date for Second Reading.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Will the Minister tell us the size and predicted growth of the market? She referred to cosmetics tests forming only 0.3 per cent. of all animal tests. I do not know what that figure entails in terms of the world market. Does the Minister have the figures available? How will future growth proceed?

Miss Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to be a market analyst, but I shall do my best to tell him the current state of play.

The cosmetics, toiletry and perfumery marketcosmetics is widely defined; the market is wider than make-up itemsin the UK in 1999 was estimated at retail sales of 4.9 billion. The US continues to be the UK's largest and most important market external to the EU for finished cosmetic products. It had 175 million-worth of exports and 199 million-worth of imports in 2000. Those figures exclude soapand probably the microbial soap that I still cannot pronounce, despite being sent a note about how to do so.

Many of the imports go to UK companies appointed as European distributors by US principals, and that adds to the UK plc figures. Imports from Switzerland total 60 million and those from the USA total 214 million. The EU is an important export market for both those countries, and that, no doubt, will influence their concerns about the sixth amendment.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): If we were to go ahead with the seventh amendmentunder which there would be a ban if an alternative test were availablerather than the sixth amendment with its blanket ban, would there be a risk that people might be discouraged from developing alternatives? While there are no alternatives, companies can carry on as they always have done.

Miss Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a serious risk that we would remove the incentive to

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develop alternatives. One of our aims is to get the development of alternatives into an international setting through OECD mechanisms. That will provide something to which non-EU and EU members can sign up. We are one of the good guys; we have undertaken a ban on such testing in the UK. Others in the EU, such as Denmark, appear to take a more radical position in their domestic arrangements but are not in nearly such a good position as we are. We need to be seen to lead the way and must do so in an international setting to make sure that the tests are developed.

Tony Cunningham (Workington): If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, she is saying that although she and the Government would like to go much further than the directive does, it is an important step in the right direction and is as much as can be achieved at the moment. If that is the case, has she any plans to move the process forward and try to achieve the objectives of organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal welfare organisations?

Miss Johnson: I am sure that those organisations will move their positions forward themselves. We are in regular contact with them about these matters. It is important that we get the seventh amendment accepted, but it obviously needs to go through the European parliamentary procedures. That is a crucial step if it is to be adopted. It is worrying that we have not yet got a date for Second Reading, and we will consider whether we can make sure that one is fixed soon.

We must work with the EU countries that have already adopted a positive stance on the issue, namely Austria, the Netherlands and Germany. Like the UK, which has a voluntary ban, those countries have introduced testing bans for cosmetics. We must work with them to build greater support so that we can move the EU in the right direction. At the moment, there are very different views in the EU, and there is outright opposition to much of what we are arguing for. If we tried to move ahead, we would not get support in the problems that would result.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): The Minister says that the UK is taking a lead. I have no doubt that that is a good thing, but has she any evidence that taking the lead disadvantages British companies by causing them additional costs?

Miss Johnson: No, I have no evidence of that.

Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): What evidence is there that the WTO would challenge the EU if we were to declare the sixth amendment?

Miss Johnson: It may well be that the WTO would challenge the EU. So, too, might members of the WTO, the most obvious of which is the US, which would have difficulties with the amendment. It would be seen as a protectionist measure by the US for the reasons that I have given about the nature of imports and exports to that country.

If we were to ask for international standards to which the EU was incapable of adhering, that would seem unreasonable to countries outside the EU.

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Therefore, it is important that we put our own house in order before we make demands on others.

Mr. Waterson: Whatever the arguments in respect of the art of the possible in this context, does the Minister accept that the current wording is significantly weaker than the amended wording that was agreed in 1993?

Miss Johnson: No, I do not, for the reasons that I gave in my opening statement. The current wording is a marked improvement on the sixth amendment and on the earlier wording, because it gives us more to build on and more guarantees that the progress that the UK wishes to see will be attained, with regard to a ban on the testing of cosmetics on animals.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): I suspect that the difficulty that the Minister was experiencing had to do with the difference between microbial and microbiol.

Miss Johnson: I have something here that is called microbol, but we will not debate that.

Dr. Murrison: The Minister mentioned the various substances that might be classified as cosmetics, and they all sounded right and proper. We all understand what is a cosmetic; it includes perfumes, and it might even include toothpaste, which some would say is not essential.

However, the Minister said that sunblocks are included, and that worries me. These days, we are increasingly aware of the importance of the prevention of malignant melanoma, particularly with regard to children. Would it be possible to divorce sunblocks from the bulk of what we would understand to be cosmetics? There is a clear difference between sunblocks and some of the other products to which the Minister referred.

Miss Johnson: I do not know how much scope there is for redefining the term ''cosmetics''. As the hon. Gentleman said, the term covers items such as toothpaste, shaving cream, sunscreen, sunblocks and baby care products. It includes many things that are put on the skin in one way or another.

There is a definition of what constitutes a cosmetic product: it includes items used for the purpose of cleaning, perfuming, changing appearance, protecting, and keeping various parts of the body in good working order. It is a long definition, and I can supply it to the hon. Gentleman, if he so wishes. I suspect that it is inevitable that the definition will cover sunblocks and, therefore, it might not be possible to disaggregate them from the items covered by the directive.

Dr. Ladyman: Non-animal tests have to be validated, and the data to validate them usually comes from animal tests. Can the Minister assure me that nothing in these amendments will restrict the work that needs to be done to develop the non-animal tests, even if that work requires the use of animals?

Miss Johnson: That is a technical question, and my hon. Friend is right to ask it. My answer is that I hope that that will be the case, although I do not have the evidence in front of me to give him a cast iron guarantee. I assume that it will be the case, but I would like to reassure my hon. Friend, so I shall write to him about the matter.

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