SECRET FRENCH MOVE TO BLOCK ANIMAL-TESTING BAN
Andrew Osborn in Brussels and Amelia Gentleman in Paris
Tuesday August 19, 2003
France, home to the world's largest cosmetics company, L'Oréal, has quietly launched a legal action aimed at killing off a historic EU ban on animal-tested cosmetics, the Guardian has learned.
The EU measure, agreed this year after 13 years of negotiations, will phase in a near-total ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetic products throughout the EU from 2009 and put a stop to all animal testing. It has been hailed as one of the most significant pieces of EU legislation on animal welfare.
Besieged by lobbyists from its cosmetics industry, France has lodged a case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg demanding that the ban be quashed on legal and technical grounds.
In court documents seen by the Guardian, it argues that the ban is too severe and is incompatible with world trade rules, that its wording is ambiguous and that it will damage European business interests.
Paris also contends that the resulting improvement in animal welfare would be "extremely small" and that "it is likely to result in the circulation of products presenting significant risks to human health".
The French cosmetics industry is one of the few in Europe still to have an animal testing programme and companies such as L'Oréal contribute millions of euros to the French economy.
Animal rights campaigners said they were appalled by the French move. "It has taken animal campaigners and the European parliament a frustrating 13-year struggle to finally secure legislation to outlaw the suffering of lab animals to produce trivial products like lipstick and perfume," said Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).
"It is shameful enough that it has taken this long, impeded as we have been at every stage by aggressive industry lobbying. It is even more shameful that a challenge to actually reverse the EU cosmetics animal testing ban has been brought forward."
The ban, it emerged yesterday, is also under attack from another front. A coalition of companies which manufacture cosmetics ingredients has launched a separate but equally discreet challenge - this time in Europe's court of first instance - that is also designed to kill off the EU ban.
That action is being undertaken by an organisation called the European Federation for Cosmetics Ingredients, which represents 70 companies in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy.
Its secretary general, Peter Ungeheuer, refused yesterday to name the companies.
A spokesman for L'Oréal said the company was aware of the government's legal challenge but declined to comment.
Alain Grangé-Cabane, the president of the French Cosmetics Industry Association, denied, however, that the government move was motivated by self-interest. "This is a very difficult legal question. It isn't a political or an industrial issue. There is a lack of legal clarity in the directive."
Campaigners said last night they were confident the European courts would throw out both legal challenges.
"These cases will show whether European law can put animal welfare and the concerns of EU citizens above profit and vanity," said David Thomas, BUAV's legal adviser.
"If the answer is that it cannot, it will represent another serious blow to public confidence in the morality of the international trade system and the EU generally. But we believe it can."
The testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals has been outlawed in the UK since 1998 but the sale of products tested elsewhere has not and is prevalent.
Around 38,000 animals are used and killed in developing cosmetics in the EU every year.