The REACH animal testing loophole

The REACH animal testing loophole

Vegan Society of Canada News
Published December 16th 2022
Updated December 17th 2022

The Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) animal testing loopholes in Europe are similar to what we’ve discussed before but different in some key aspects. It is misleading countless people since many products are being certified “vegan” because of these loopholes.

Most people believe that animal testing on cosmetics sold in Europe is illegal. They believe that this was made illegal as part of the European Parliament's 7th amendment to Directive 76/768/EEC on the safety of cosmetics that introduced a phased ban on in vivo testing of cosmetic products and their ingredients. It was in turn confirmed when replaced by Regulation EC 1223/2009 with the ban-phased approach taking full effect in 2013.

Regrettably, as we have discussed countless times, the drive and determination of for-profit corporations to increase profit are almost endless. They support organizations that have the least stringent “vegan” standards to maximize profit so we can end up in a world where everything is labelled vegan in conflict with our vision as part of what some of our colleagues have labelled “veganwashing”.

These clever loopholes are easy to explain and include at least two we are aware of. The first is likely the largest and most dangerous because the cosmetic regulations allow testing on animals if an ingredient has a dual purpose, and most cosmetic ingredients have use in other industries such as pharmaceuticals. This assumes that for-profit businesses are honest and transparent, and do not create dubious dual purposes only to get approval for their cosmetics in the EU.

The REACH regulations, which regulate all chemicals, were published in 2006 and require various tests on animals for chemicals. The last nail in the coffin was published by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in 2014 and clearly stated that tests on animals can be performed to fulfill REACH requirements for risk assessment for worker exposure and ecosystem effects. This is the second loophole.

As a result of these two loopholes, the cosmetic testing ban in Europe is almost useless. Making the loopholes much worse is the fact that for-profit businesses only support organizations that turn a blind eye to their killing and exploitation of animals and continue to certify their products as “vegan” despite some ingredients having been tested on animals.

It is impossible to know the full impact of these loopholes. First, it would require businesses to be honest and transparent and we know for a fact that’s not always the case. Second, these regulations cover only European countries; there’s nothing preventing a business from getting ingredients approved in the EU under current regulations and then for those ingredients to later be tested on animals outside the EU.

We can get a small glimpse of the first and the largest loophole in Europe by looking at the REACH database. As of the writing of this article, there were 3314 cosmetic ingredients in the REACH database, defined as those with a category of 28 or 39; of those, 2009 added a dual use that likely was subjected to animal testing in Europe and worldwide.

The extent to which products labelled as “vegan” or “cruelty-free” have been tested on animals is unacceptable. Those loopholes pertain to European countries, not because it does not happen anywhere else in the world, but because the European Union has one of the more stringent chemical regulations; this allows us to assess the extent of the issue. In many other countries, there are no such public records.

Additionally, many organizations certifying products as “vegan” or “cruelty-free” rely on self-disclosure or don’t do regular reviews or inspections except for the one at the time of application, and many businesses simply do not consider animal testing at all when self-certifying their products. This leads to the true extent of the problem becoming nearly infinite.

What is ethically wrong with killing, animal testing or any other form of animal exploitation is not where it occurs in the supply chain, or whether it occurs to an animal that looks like a cow, but that it occurs at all. Always support products, services, certifications and organizations that align with your beliefs. Ours are clear and our dedication to our vision is unwavering.

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