Testing household products on animals
There is no clear definition of a household laundry detergent, insecticides, solvents, furniture polish and air freshener. Regulators of testing procedures supply examples of items which may be included in this category, but use of this classification is down to individual discretion.
The testing of household products using animals was banned by the UK government with effect from October 2015.
The ban covers all finished products – including detergents, polishes and cleaning products, laundry products, air fresheners, deodorants, paints and other decorating materials. It also applies to any chemical, when more than half of it is expected to be used as an ingredient in household products. Testing of such ingredients on animals will be banned unless there is a legal requirement or an exceptional justification can be made in advance.
In practice, animals have not been widely used for this purpose since 2002 due to alternative technologies becoming available, and no animals at all have been used for this purpose since 2010.
Safety testing is an essential part of a modern society. Most tests are done to meet international legislative or regulatory requirements, and are intended to protect the consumer, the workforce and the environment. The testing often uses non-animal techniques, but the use of animals remains an essential part of the process.
There is a difference between the testing of a final household product, an area where few tests are carried out, and the testing of the ingredients it contains, which must generally be tested by law. Within the EU the Centre for the Validation of Alternatives (ECVAM) is responsible for approving new, non-animal tests which can replace the traditional animal methods the Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) performs a similar role in the USA. Many early stage toxicity tests now use approved alternative methods, and testing chemicals on animals is carried out only as a last resort, when initial tests have shown there to be ‘reason for concern’ about the toxicity of a particular substance.
All new chemical substances, whatever products they might eventually be used in, have to be tested before they can be marketed. The tests ensure that they meet safety standards and that allow them to be packaged and used appropriately.
Within the EU, the REACH Directive now covers the requirement to test all new and existing chemical substances. It has replaced a number of previous directives with EU-standardised testing methods to determine the hazardous properties of new chemicals.
In chemicals testing animals are only used as a last resort. The type of tests needed are decided when the chemical is registered and its safety needs to be assessed. Most accidental exposure to chemical substances occurs in industry, for example, during the manufacture process. However, household products are also a significant source of child and pet poisonings and it is important that sufficient toxicity data exists for these incidents to be treated effectively.
Final household-products themselves are rarely tested on animals (in 2007 only one animal was used in the UK). There are generally no legal requirements to carry out particular animal tests on non-medical products to assess their safety. The exceptions to this are when the purpose of a product means it falls under specific safety legislation, for example some surface cleaners may fall under the Biocidal Products Directive
Manufacturers may decide to test the efficacy of their products on animals when it is appropriate. Weed killers which are labeled as being ‘safe for pets’ will have been tested on animals so the manufacturers can be sure their claims are true. A repellent spray designed to keep cats away from a garden will be tested for efficacy by studying which areas of a room cats prefer, and recording whether they avoid an area where the spray has been applied.
The EU ban on cosmetic testing began with final products, and moved to a phased ban on the testing of ingredients on animals. The final stages include a ban on the import of animal-tested cosmetics, and are approaching next year.
There are superficially some comparisons between cosmetic testing and household product testing. In practice, however, the two are very different. Ingredients in cosmetics are generally present in very small quantities, are of low toxicity, and are applied superficially, mainly to the skin. Household products, by comparison, may be present in much larger quantities (e.g. bleach), may be of high toxicity (e.g. insecticides), and the main concern is when they are ingested by mistake.
Compared to cosmetic products, a far greater volume of household, industrial and agrochemical products are produced, used and go down the drain and into the atmosphere. Therefore these substances could cause serious problems if they are harmful to human health or the environment.
There is a substantial demand for new chemicals to use in manufacturing products. Preventing the development and testing of new chemicals would damage industry and the introduction of new, potentially less harmful, products. Particular chemicals are often used in many different products, and very different uses may be found from those initially intended. In many areas new products are urgently needed. For example, non-solvent-based paints can help minimise damage to the environment.
There continue to be serious concerns about the environmental impact of many chemical substances currently in use. Substances which persist in the food chain may be found in wildlife hundreds of miles from where they originated, and may cause serious environmental damage. This is now a driving concern behind chemical testing.
Some companies already claim that the household products they sell have not been tested on animals. For example, the Marks & Spencer (M&S) policy on the use of animals for testing cosmetic and household products states that: “we don’t test any of our beauty or household products on animals. But we wanted to go further than this. As part of our Plan A commitments, we’ve undertaken to guarantee that none of the individual ingredients in our beauty or household products is tested on animals either, starting from a fixed cut-off date of January 2006.”
This means that neither the product nor the raw materials was tested on animals after Jan 2006. It still means that M&S can sell products containing ingredients that were tested on animals, so long as that testing happened before January 2006. These cosmetic products can include new formulations of the ingredients.
It is potentially misleading of M&S to make a claim which sounds as if its products will not have been tested on animals. It may be that they plan to progressively introduce new products in which neither the ingredients nor the final product are tested on animals, but the statement does not confirm this. Information as to whether alternative tests were carried out to assure consumers of the product safety and assess any potential environmental impact is not provided.
Updated July 2011