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14 Oct 2008 : Column 251WH—continued

A lot of money is being spent on animal experimentation at the moment, but not much is being spent on finding alternatives. It does not take a rocket scientist to guess
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that in those circumstances more experimentation will occur than if that balance were shifted. Given that we do not have a robust way to understand which kinds of experiment on which animals are ethically reasonable, it seems entirely fair to demand that a higher proportion of what is spent on testing should be spent instead on developing alternatives.

It is obviously a delicate matter of balance, and there is much discussion to be had about how any such thing could be arranged. I certainly do not want to clutter my remarks with amateur attempts to design specifics—the Minister or our own Front Benchers will be able to consider that—but it is important that we start the endeavour in earnest. Until and unless that balance alters, I suspect that enough alternatives to make a difference will not be developed. Much more transparency and many more alternatives would allow the debate to proceed constructively despite the huge intellectual and ethical difficulties involved. I also suspect that in the meantime, fewer animals would be subjected to fewer experiments, because there would be more alternatives and more awareness of the facts of the case due to transparency.

1.45 pm

Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household (Claire Ward): I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on securing this debate on an issue whose importance is reflected in our postbags as constituency MPs. We are a country of animal lovers, and we are concerned about unnecessary testing on animals.

There is a clear distinction between legislation on cosmetics and legislation on other things such as medical devices or household cleaning products, and the Home Office licence is very clear about what tests may be carried out under which legislative regimes. The right hon. Gentleman raised an interesting issue about how we should take the debate onwards in respect of testing in general on animals.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I clarified the situation regarding the testing of cosmetics on animals. Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, the Home Office is responsible for licensing test houses that carry out testing on animals for any purpose. The terms and conditions of licensing indicate that a licence will be issued only if there is no alternative to animal tests, if the generation of new data is justified, if the protocols proposed cannot be further refined and if the protocols will be likely to produce data meeting the specific objective.

In 1997, following discussions between the test houses and cosmetic product and ingredient manufacturers, it was agreed that existing licences would be withdrawn and no new licences would be issued for animal testing of finished cosmetic products, ingredients or combinations of ingredients. In effect, no testing of cosmetics on animals has taken place in the UK for the last 11 years.

The seventh amendment to the cosmetics directive, the requirements of which are contained in the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008, takes what the UK and some other member states had in place and extends it to the whole of the European Union. The seventh amendment has several elements. First, it imposes a ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products and cosmetic ingredients on animals from 11 March 2005. Secondly,
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it introduces a provisional ban on the marketing of cosmetic products that have been tested on animals or contain ingredients that have been tested on animals using a method other than an alternative method where such a method has been validated and adopted at Community level. In other words, if an approved alternative method exists, testing on animals is unlawful. Thirdly, the amendment introduces a longstop ban that will prohibit the marketing of cosmetic products tested on animals from 2009 for the vast majority of animal tests and from 2013 for the remaining three tests, toxicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics, for which development of alternatives, as the right hon. Gentleman highlighted, is much more complex. The longstop ban will come into force irrespective of whether alternative methods have been developed.

That means, in effect, that no animal testing of cosmetics can take place in the UK or other EU member states and that, in a phased transition starting next year and culminating in 2013, the marketing of cosmetic products tested on animals will be prohibited. The marketing ban will include not only products from within the EU but cosmetic products manufactured outside of the EU that have been subject to animal testing. That is of particular importance, because there are still countries, such as Japan and the United States, where animal testing of cosmetic products is an important part of product safety assessment.

It might be useful to mention briefly the progress being made in the development of alternatives to animal testing. For the deadline in 2009, alternatives already exist for tests for skin corrosion, acute phototoxicity, skin penetration and skin irritation and mutagenicity. Work on the replacement of the genotoxicity and eye irritation tests is progressing well—I am sure that we all have very clear images of the sort of animal welfare posters produced, at the time, of rabbits, in particular, involved in the latter tests.

Hopefully those replacement tests will be completed towards the latter half of 2009, and at present we have no reason to believe that the 2013 end points will not be met. It is worth pointing out that once those tests are validated and legally accepted, they are to be used as alternatives to animal testing in all areas, not just those related to cosmetic products—I think that that addresses the point that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, the Home Office, via its Animal (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate, is responsible for ensuring that test houses do not carry out testing on animals for cosmetic purposes. Day-to-day enforcement of the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008 is the responsibility of local authority trading standards departments, which have access to the safety assessment dossiers, which companies must retain for all the cosmetic products that they supply. Those dossiers will contain information on any animal testing that has been carried out in the past. If hon. Members are contacted by constituents with concerns about such matters, they can refer them to their local trading standards department.

My Department has received a number of letters from members of the public concerned that the regime that I described earlier will change because of pressure from the cosmetics industry. I can reassure Members of
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the House that the cosmetics industry has made no such approach to my Department and that, even if it did, we would not change the existing legal framework. My officials have also confirmed that no approach has been made by the cosmetics industry to the European Commission seeking changes to the European directive on cosmetics in respect of animal testing.

All animal testing must be conducted under the REACH—Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals—regime, which was initially an EU regulation, but is now incorporated into UK law. Its overall objective is to establish a rapid, efficient system for collecting the necessary information on chemicals and for tackling those of most concern, while minimising animal testing and maintaining the competitiveness of the chemical industry. The UK Government continue to be strongly supportive of the principles and objectives of this new EU chemicals strategy.

Although it is important for the industry to demonstrate that its chemicals are safe to the environment and to human health, via the environment, the animal testing required under REACH to achieve these ends must be minimised and undertaken only where it is needed, and not just for the sake of filling data gaps.

Kerry McCarthy: There has been a significant increase in animal experiments over recent years. Is one of the problems not the lack of data sharing between companies? Sometimes that is because of commercial confidentiality, but could the Minister tell us a bit more about what is being done to encourage companies to share test results, so that they are not all carrying out the same tests unnecessarily?

Claire Ward: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. It is important that the industry recognises the Government’s and the EU’s intentions in ensuring that we reduce the amount of animal testing. It is in everybody’s benefit, therefore, that companies share that basic data. That is very important.

It is important to note that the legislation focuses on “information” rather than “data”. There is flexibility to use all available information, not just data from tests, to satisfy particular registration requirements. To avoid duplication, the REACH regulations specifically exclude the need to consider the risks to human health for uses in cosmetic products within the scope of the cosmetics directive. However, the need to reduce animal testing is a key issue for the UK Government who will continue to emphasise the importance of requiring information where this is necessary for risk management.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Does the Minister agree with my right hon. Friend that transparency needs to be encouraged and supported far more than it has been. Without transparency, we will not gradually find further ways in which we can reduce animal testing, not only for cosmetics but a whole range of other things. Will she undertake to make this a priority for the Government to ensure that there is much greater transparency throughout the whole area of research?

Claire Ward: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue about transparency and information data sharing between companies to ensure that we minimise the effect of increasing animal testing.

Testing can be minimised by ensuring that data on chemicals is shared between companies and countries—a
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significant benefit of the European Union—as well as ensuring that test packages for the new REACH scheme are proportionate.

Kerry McCarthy: On transparency, there is another issue is there not? Consumers often do not realise that what they are buying has been tested on animals, because labelling is not clear. The average person on the street does not want to buy products that have been tested on animals, but that information simply is not available. Will the Minister convey to the Department the need for more transparency in the information that is given to consumers when they buy household products?

Claire Ward: My hon. Friend raises another important point. I am sure that the Minister who has full-time responsibility for this issue will study the Hansard report of this debate with great interest, and that my hon. Friend’s points will be taken on board.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make it clear that this issue is also about the public demanding changes.
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There has been a huge change in the public’s state of mind in the past few years, initially as a result of people such as Anita Roddick and organisations such as the Body Shop making changes to the way in which they marketed and sold their products, and others seeing the value of those changes. In time, we will move on to the changes that the right hon. Member for West Dorset suggests. He sees this as a much bigger issue involving the use of animals for testing not only cosmetics, but household, medical and many other items.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman again for raising this important issue, which will no doubt be aired again, perhaps taking on the points that he has made and developing the debate. I trust that he feels that the UK Government and the European Union have made significant progress in changing animal testing regimes and taking this issue forward, so that there might be a time at which we can significantly reduce the amount of animal testing.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Two o’clock.

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