§ Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I put a simple and stark proposition in relation to the testing of cosmetics on laboratory animals. In 1987, 14,534 animals died needlessly, and often suffered needlessly before they died. No more licences for such animal suffering should be granted.
I will not harrow the House with details of what some experiments involve, but they are, perhaps, symbolised by the irritancy test which is applied to the eyes of rabbits. Scientists want to see whether a human being would suffer irritation and other unfortunate effects from a substance. Those substances are applied to rabbits' eyes, and they must be secured so that the animals cannot interfere. Many of us have been sickened by such experiments when we have seen either descriptions, or even worse, illustrations of them.
I shall explain to the House and to my hon. Friend the Minister why my opposition is entirely practical and not simply pie in the sky. First, my understanding is that there are no regulations in this country requiring animal experiments for the purposes of cosmetics. The 1984 regulations, which relate to the safety of cosmetics, state only thata cosmetic product shall not be liable to cause damage to human health when it is applied under normal conditions of use.The term "cosmetics" covers a wider range than simply what one might think of as lipstick, mascara, face powder and the like. It applies to any substance which goes on the body to cleanse it, improve its look, protect it in some way from the sun, or improve its smell. That includes a range of substances such as toilet soaps, perfumes, antiperspirants, hair lacquer, hair tint and bleaches, anti-wrinkle products, and sun-bathing products.
As far as I can judge, there are no mandatory requirements for animal testing of such products in northern European countries, the United States, or Australia. France has its own twist. The authorities there ask for a detailed dossier on a certain ingredient or formulation, and can require animal testing if they think that it is necessary, but it is by no means a mandatory universal requirement. There are particularly interesting arrangements in the United States. They have a list of ingredients which are generally recognised as safe—GRAS, they call it for short. Those substances which have a long proven record of safety and reliability, primarily in household products and cosmetics, can go on the list, and no further testing is required.
My main point is that, irrespective of whether such applications are mandatory—and I hope that I have proved they are not—it is unnecessary to test such products by the use of animal experiments. There is a very long history of the application of some ingredients and formulations. If we want to have proof positive of that, it lies in the number of firms that state now that they have either never tested on animals or no longer do so. The impressive list includes such well-known names as Yardley, the own brands of Boots, Marks and Spencer, and Sainsbury, Rimmel, Innoxa, Body Shop products and a host of others.
Indeed, if anyone is interested, the RSPCA has produced an interesting booklet which I have in my hand, 1256 listing the firms that do not use animal tests, and their products. The list is as comprehensive as it is possible to be, although it is never easy to keep it up-to-date.
At the end of the booklet is a very interesting statement of the policies of various companies and I shall read two of them to give an indication of their appoach. For example, Rose Laird International says:first stage of testing is under laboratory conditions for culture testing. Each batch of manufactured goods is tested on approximately 30 to 50 women, prior to filling into final packaging. Samples of each batch are kept as a matter of course for historical testing.Yardley, a very well-known name in cosmetics. says:The safety of our products is confirmed by human patch test studies, no animal studies, either on formulations or ingredients, are undertaken on behalf of or at the request of the company.If it is good enough for such major companies and household names not to test, I fail to see why any tests are necessary.
Let me deal now more specifically with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, under which licences for cosmetic testing must be applied for. I recall that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), when he was piloting the Bill through the House made it very clear in his direct and forthright way that he did not regard the Act as static. He deliberately tried to formulate the Act so as to respond to new needs and requirements, and a new approach. I am sorry to see, so far, that that point has not been taken on board sufficiently clearly with regard to cosmetics experiments.
Under the Act, all cosmetic licence applications must be referred to the Secretary of State's statutory advisory body, the Animal Procedures Committee. It should take a very much harder line, and should recommend that a new requirement is attached to applications for licences, to ensure that unnecessary experiments do not take place. There should be some form of needs condition, whereby a company would have to indicate that human volunteers are not possible. Even more important—I stress this to the Minister today—there should not be other products on the market that would fulfil the role that the new product has in mind. On that basis, 99 per cent. of licences would be turned down.
In many ways, I am surprised that licences have been granted under the Act. A useful cost-benefit analysis is provided by the Act, whereby the benefit that will accrue is weighed against the pain, suffering and loss of life suffered by the animals. It would be hard for any cosmetics company to put hand on heart and sign that declaration with sincerity. The procedures committee should look hard at that formulation to see whether the committee should allow licence applications to succeed, as that criterion is already built into arrangements for licensing.
In many cases, it is not possible for members of the public lawfully to take direct action. I would be the very last to commend anyone to do an act that broke the law. But here we have a superb example of where women and men—some items are used by men, including shampoos and after-shave lotions—can decide whether it is acceptable that an animal should suffer during testing. They can choose from the very wide range of products that are no longer tested on animals, or never have been. I commend to anyone who feels strongly about this, as I do, to look at the lists available and make their views known 1257 by buying the cruelty-free products, as well as writing to firms whose products they usually buy to say that they will no longer do so unless action is taken to stop the testing.
I hope, too, that cosmetic companies will not be too coy about saying in their advertising that they do not test on animals, or no longer do so. I recognise that some of them might feel awkward because they have commissioned studies in the past but we are concerned with what they are doing now and what they intend to do. I hope that they will not be backward in coming forward in that respect. I am sure, from the number of letters that I and other hon. Members have received, and from the many signatories to early-day motion 44, that there is a groundswell of opinion that this activity is no longer acceptable.
People may say reluctantly that testing is necessary and must be accepted because of its role in medicine to save human life and suffering, but I for one do not want to use make-up or other toiletries that have been used on animals. In order to beautify ourselves, we have made unhappy, innocent animals suffer.
I hope that my hon. Friend will reply in a forthright way on the lines that I have so strongly advocated this morning.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) for bringing the subject of the safety testing of cosmetics before the House this morning. It is undboutedly a matter of public concern. It is also one in which it is very important to strike a balance between ensuring that the substances that we use every day are safe, and reducing the number of animals and the severity of procedures that are used in this essential safety testing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake was right to draw the attention of the House to the broad interpretation given to the word "cosmetic". We must be clear about its meaning. In ordinary language one would assume that it was confined to ornamental substances such as lipstick or mascara, but as my hon. Friend rightly says, that would be a mistake; "cosmetic" has a very wide meaning.
Under the European Community cosmetic directive 76/768, which was promulgated on 27 July 1976, cosmetics include any substance intended for placing in contact with the external parts of the body, the skin, the hair, nails, lips, genital organs, the teeth and the mouth in order to clean, perfume or protect them, so as to keep them in good condition, change their appearance or to correct body odours.
Clearly, cosmetics are a wide category. As my hon. Friend fairly said and as I have already stated, we are not talking exclusively about lipsticks and perfumes. We are also talking about virtually any cream, lotion or oil; virtually any powder; soaps, shampoos and shaving creams; toothpastes and mouthwashes; deodorants and products for what is known technically as "intimate hygiene"; and a range of products used in factories such as a form of gel to remove oil from people's skin. It is a long list, that could go on and on.
1258 Inevitably, some of the substances are applied to sensitive parts of the body for prolonged periods, so the House will agree that we must ensure that they are safe and that the very best and most effective procedures are used for establishing the safety of these products when in use. When I say that we must do those things, I mean that we are under a legal obligation, a moral obligation and a social obligation to do so. My hon. Friend has set before the House her case for the reduced use of animals in cosmetics testing. I agree with her objective of the reduced use of living animals. That is the Government's position. However, where I disagree with her is on the possibility of the total elimination of such testing.
My hon. Friend has been kind enough to recognise that, under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which was so successfully steered through the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, we have introduced a substantially more rigorous system of control over the conduct of all scientific procedures on animals. All work now has to be authorised by project licences.
Under section 5 of the 1986 Act, the Secretary of State shallweigh the likely adverse effects on the animals concerned against the benefit likely to accrueandnot grant a project licence unless he is satisfied that the applicant has given adequate consideration to the feasibility of achieving the purpose of the programme … by means not involving the use of protected animals.It is thus a balancing exercise. All project licence applications for the testing of cosmetic substances are subject to special conditions. They are carefully scrutinised by the inspectorate and all are referred to the Animal Procedures Committee.
We are not talking here about a very large number of licensees—there are currently only six project licences. All are held by commercial concerns with special expertise in safety testing.
All the licencees have an obligation to ensure that substances which might be expected to have a severe reaction are not tested under a cosmetic project licence, and all the licensees are aware that the purpose of safety tests on cosmetics is to establish the mildness of the substances they are testing. That point was highlighted in the discussion of cosmetics in paragraphs 3.6 to 3.14 of the 1987 annual report of the Animal Procedures Committee.
The effect of the stringent conditions that we have put on cosmetic testing using living animals for many years, and the concern of the industry to use animals only when strictly necessary, has led, I am glad to say, to a progressive reduction in the use of animals for cosmetic testing over recent years. In 1980, for example, the number was 31,300: by 1987, this had fallen to 14,500, or less than 0.5 per cent. of all animal procedures.
I come now to the part of my hon. Friend's argument where I cannot wholly agree with her. I cannot agree with her when she suggests that we can now bring an end to all cosmetics testing on living animals because the effect of that would inevitably be to stop the innovation and development of new ingredients.
It is important that I emphasise once again that we are not talking merely about mascaras and lipsticks, because there might be a case for saying that we know quite enough about mascaras and lipsticks and so there is no need to develop our knowledge further; as my hon. Friend fairly said, "cosmetics" is given a broad definition. I do not think 1259 that it would be right to put a prohibition on development and innovation across the broad spectrum of products that are covered by the definition of "cosmetics".
I shall give some examples that might be worth thinking about. This morning the House could easily have been discussing aerosols and the threat to the ozone layer. All hon. Members are now wholly persuaded of the need to find alternatives to CFCs for use in aerosols, but many of the products for which aerosols are necessary are cosmetics. It is inevitable and right that the alternatives to CFCs must be tried for safety before they can be marketed.
I shall give another example. For reasons that are well known to the House, the House has been concerned about food safety. One question concerning the industry is the safety of preservatives used in food. The same thing applies to cosmetics because, by the nature of cosmetics, when broadly defined as I have defined them, preservatives play an important part. It is essential that we should ascertain the safety of those preservatives. We must ascertain whether chemical or microbiological degradation is likely to lead to infection or adverse reaction. Preservatives are one of the more common causes of allergic responses to cosmetic products. I do not think that we should say that we can now draw a line under our knowledge of preservatives. I find that proposition difficult to accept.
It is right that work should continue to make preservatives safe. The only way of guaranteeing that they are safe—in so far as guarantees are possible—is to carry out some tests on living animals. The testing of such preservatives counts for statistical purposes as the testing of cosmetics.
The plain fact is that similar arguments apply for a wide range of other cosmetic products. It goes without saying that shampoos must not irritate the eyes or cause hair loss, that toothpaste must not inflame the gums and that creams to protect the skin must not produce a rash.
Even substances which we may use very rarely must be tested to make sure that the workers who produce them, and are therefore exposed daily to large quantities, are not at risk. Again, such testing counts in our statistics on cosmetics testing.
Understandably, my hon. Friend raised questions of law. The point is that, if cosmetics are to be made in this country, manufacturers must comply with a common law requirement to ensure that their products are safe as well as meeting both our own and European Community legislation, in particular the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 1984, which implement the European Community's cosmetics directives, and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Indeed, without proper testing involving animals, manufacturers could become liable—in my view, rightly so—for heavy damages if they sold cosmetic products which seriously injured the health of their customers.
Taking a broad view of the matter and having regard to the liability, or potential liability, of manufacturers, it seems to me that they simply could not establish that they had taken "all reasonable care"—which is the test in negligence actions—if in certain cases they had failed to carry out procedures on living animals. I do not see how they could satisfy their common law, not to say their statutory, duties in that respect.
We should also note that the European "Notes for Guidance for the Toxicity Testing of Cosmetic 1260 Ingredients" make the requirement for testing in living animals explicit, following an earlier report by the Scientific Committee on Cosmetology.
That report stated:some in vitro systems have been developed so that they can be used as screening tests to indicate the possibility of a long-term risk, but the results still have to be confirmed in mammals. Most of the adverse effects associated with cosmetics … are such that they can only be demonstrated in mammals".As I have told the House, we share the concern of hon. Members to ensure that this testing is kept to a minimum. The Home Secretary has specifically sought the advice of the Animal Procedures Committee about cosmetic testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Drake will agree, that committee is an unusually distinguished and independent-minded committee.
In its annual report laid before Parliament in December the APC set out its current position on cosmetics testing. It has asked for special reporting requirements to be imposed on cosmetic project licences to enable it to carry out a thorough review of the subject in due course. We are also encouraging alternatives to the use of living animals whenever possible, and I am glad to say that the industry has responded.
At the moment, alternative methods are used to screen substances before they are tested on living animals. This is particularly important with tests such as the Drain eye test to which my hon. Friend referred. Before embarking on such tests, a safety evaluation must be carried out using published information to establish lack of irritancy. When available, tests not involving living animals must also be used. Only if those are satisfactory are tests performed using living animals, arid, whenever possible, the substances are diluted for the test.
My hon. Friend, in an interesting speech, talked at some length about so-called "cruelty-free" cosmetics produced by companies which claim not to test their products on living animals. do not pretend that we in the Home Office are particularly expert in that sphere. Our concerns, as my hon. Friend will be aware, are to ensure that all procedures involving living animals are properly justified and correctly carried out.
One should approach some of the claims with a degree of caution. The term "cruelty-free" is certainly vague. It could be judged to be emotive. Like a number of similar claims for products, such as those which are described as "home made" or "organic", it is not always clear exactly what is being claimed.
The phrase "cruelty-free" may imply that the product has not been tested on living animals or that when it was, the testing did not involve cruelty. It is of course always possible for a company to market a product which is known to be non-toxic without the need for further testing —we would encourage that whenever possible—but I am told that some of the claims about "cruelty-free" substances are not always what they seem. I know that some companies claim that their finished products are not tested on animals, but that as a proposition is true for the majority of products, as, in general, it is only the ingredients which are tested, and then only when they are being developed.
I know, too, that some companies claim that the substances they use have not been tested on living animals within the last five years. But most companies could claim that with a degree of justice. Because of the time it takes to develop a new ingredient and obtain European 1261 Community acceptance, it is relatively uncommon for a new ingredient to be marketed within five years of its safety clearance.
I share the wish of my hon. Friend that, whenever, possible and whenever it is safe to do so, the safety of cosmetics should be established without recourse to animal testing. In the meantime, we should be clearer what the claim to be "cruelty-free" means, and perhaps we would be wise not to take all these claims at face value.
I am sure that this is not the last time that the House will debate these issues. It is right that there should be a continuing awareness of them. It is right, too, that my hon. Friend, with her knowledge and expertise of this issue, should take opportunities to bring the matter before the House.
The Government are concerned to ensure a correct balance. The correct balance, as we judge it to be, is the balance between, on the one hand, the proper and effective safety testing of everyday personal hygiene and toilet preparations and other cosmetics broadly defined and, on the other, the use of living animals in this testing.
We believe that the controls that we have introduced in the 1986 legislation are effective in ensuring that the only testing which is done is that which is necessary and which is required by proper regulatory authorities and testing which is properly conducted.
We are keeping the matter under review and are in discussion with licensees about the conduct of their work. The public must be reassured that experiments on living animals are conducted only when there is no alternative and, equally, that the wide range of what are defined as cosmetic substances which they may use every day are safe for them and for their children.