Symrise, a major player in fragrances and flavors based in Germany, has faced a significant setback as it lost its appeal against a decision made by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). This ruling mandates animal testing for two cosmetic ingredients: UV filter homosalate and 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, both previously approved for use in sunscreens. The verdict from the European Court of Justice’s General Court has raised concerns as it seems to prioritize the animal testing requirements set by ECHA over established bans on animal testing for cosmetic ingredients.

Cosmetic animal testing bans were enacted in both the European Union and the United Kingdom, making it illegal to use ingredients that had undergone animal testing anywhere globally. These bans were enforced in March 2013, leading beauty companies to adopt alternative testing methods, such as laboratory-cultivated reconstructed skin.

However, a significant turning point occurred in August 2020 when the ECHA introduced a requirement to test certain substances on animals, even if they were intended solely for cosmetic use. This decision was based on the necessity to assess potential risks to factory workers during the manufacturing process, resulting in hundreds of ingredients facing the prospect of animal testing.

The issue of animal testing gained prominence in the beauty industry when Symrise was directed by the ECHA in March 2018 to conduct toxicity tests on animals for the two sunscreen-related ingredients. Symrise challenged this decision, but the ECHA’s board of appeal upheld it in August 2021. Subsequently, Symrise pursued two cases in the General Court to contest the ruling.

While the recent General Court decision acknowledges that alternative testing methods should be used whenever possible, with animal testing considered a last resort under REACH’s Article 25, it stipulates that animal testing must be conducted when no alternatives are available. This ruling appears to prioritize REACH’s testing requirements over cosmetics testing bans, contravening the anticipated hierarchy of these bans.

The mandated toxicity tests for the two sunscreen ingredients are expected to involve over 5,500 animals, including rats, rabbits, and fish, leading to considerable suffering for these animals. Symrise retains the option to appeal both judgments.

The European public has expressed a strong desire to end cosmetics testing on animals, with over 1.2 million individuals supporting the “Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics” European Citizens’ Initiative. This initiative, initiated by a coalition of European animal protection groups, prompted the European Commission to consider phasing out animal testing for all chemicals. However, the recent court ruling has cast doubt on the effectiveness of existing cosmetics testing bans.

Emma Grange, Director of Sciences and Regulatory Affairs at Cruelty Free Europe, stressed the importance of transparency and expediting the phase-out process, irrespective of potential further appeals in the courts. Preserving the public’s trust in cosmetics testing bans is essential, and the drive to eliminate animal testing must persist.