I was drinking my tea this morning and having a quick look at the news on my phone. I nearly spat the former out over the latter in shock when I saw the headline. It read “UK could allow animal testing for cosmetic ingredients for first time since 1998”. My initial reaction was that this was completely insane. Surely the last thing the UK needs is to align itself with anything so unpopular. Any idea this stupid should be buried so deep that only the development of new fracking techniques would enable it be dug out again.
Reading the article it turned out that the headline was significantly at odds with what is actually going on.
What has happened is that the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, has ruled that in a case where a chemical is being made for use in cosmetics that it can be tested on animals for the purposes of ensuring that it can be manufactured safely. Testing is banned on animals for purely cosmetic purposes – something that the UK successfully pushed for when it was an EU member. I can remember being very pleased when the animal testing ban first came into effect. ECHA has now said workers’ safety can override the ban on testing for the purposes of cosmetic use.
Speaking as a worker in the cosmetic industry, I am not too unhappy that this is the case. It’s good to know that my safety is of concern. I don’t think that consumers who don’t want animals killed for the sake of their cosmetics would want to kill the humans who make them. So I can sort of see where ECHA are coming from.
But speaking as a problem solver – if the issue is making sure cosmetics can be manufactured without putting at risk the people who make them I would have thought that there are other options. For example, why not issue rules for ensuring that untested raw materials have to be handled in a way that doesn’t expose anyone to them.
I’m actually a big fan of both regulations and pressure groups. Neither ever seems to have quite the effect that they set out to achieve. But they often trigger off creative solutions to get around the problem that they are combatting. But back to the story.
I imagine the real reason for the striking headline is the politics. ECHA is run by the EU, and consequently the UK no longer has any say in what it does. This means that in theory the UK could do its own thing. But in practice the UK will have to follow the rules that ECHA lays down. Special interest groups can exploit this to gain extra publicity for their cause.
In this case I suspect that the group in question is Cruelty Free International (CFI), who have managed a PR coup. ECHA is doing something they don’t like. They’ve got the UK government involved in the hope and probably the expectation of getting a headline out of it. As the UK government says it will go along with ECHA, they can now be berated as supporting animal testing. If they say they won’t, it’s still a big story. If they ignore it altogether – well even that’s a story.
If creating a PR opportunity wasn’t their strategy all along, I’d be surprised. That’s their job after all. But they can’t have failed to notice how effective it was. It probably won’t be lost on other pressure groups either. There are other organisations that are interested in animal testing. And there are other issues.
I think we’ll be seeing more of this kind of thing.