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Why mice are being gassed so YOU can look younger

Why mice are being gassed so YOU can look younger

Most people thought animal tests for cosmetics had been banned - don't be fooled...

By Steve Boggan
25th January 2011

When Jenny Brown agreed to go ­undercover to investigate the testing of a rival to Botox on animals, she knew it might be unpleasant, but nothing had prepared her for this: highly trained lab technicians kneeling on the floor while they tried to break the necks of mice with a ballpoint pen.

Even worse, having to watch as those technicians botched the job — and broke the creatures’ backs instead. Jenny’s secret filming of the operation shows the mice still alive and writhing in agony with broken spines. It also shows others being ­poisoned with deadly injections and, if they survived, being gassed to death by the hundred.

‘It was horrible, and I couldn’t do anything except record what was ­happening,’ recalls Jenny. ‘When you’re in such a situation, you have to switch off, to go into your own little world. But I was very shaken.’

Lethal: A new alternative to Botox is being tested on mice

Thank goodness, you may think, that Jenny’s operation was conducted a long, long time ago. It must have been — because in Britain the use of cosmetic testing on animals was banned in 1998. Across Europe, ­similar bans came into force in 2003. It’s an old issue, a done deal.

Except that it isn’t. Jenny’s ­experience occurred just over a year ago and, because of a series of loopholes, political wrangling and confused European legislation, the number of animals due to die in the name of human vanity is set to increase by ­millions in the very near future.

According to the European Cosmetics Association, five billion cosmetic products are bought by 380 million consumers across Europe each year. EU legislation requires that each product sold is safe to humans.

For decades, this safety was ­determined by subjecting animals to painful tests — putting cosmetics and chemicals into their eyes, making them ingest the ingredients or rubbing them on the animals’ skin to test for ­irritation and the growth of cancers.

However, under pressure from organisations such as the British Union for the Abolition of ­Vivisection (BUAV) and the RSPCA, bans were introduced and the cosmetics industry moved towards finding alternative testing methods, including manipulation of cells in test tubes and even the ­application of products to human skin grown in the lab.

The 2003 ban introduced by the EU, an amendment to the European ­Cosmetics Directive of 1976, made it ­illegal to test finished products on ­animals. This was beefed up further when, in 2009, the EU also banned cosmetic animal testing on ingredients. That, then, should have been that.
But, as Jenny found, animals are still suffering in the name of cosmetics.

In the case she exposed for the BUAV, they were being used legally in the testing of a licensed medical product that could then be prescribed ‘off-label’ — not for the purpose for which it was licensed — as a cosmetic wrinkle treatment.

Testing Dysport involves injecting the toxin into the mice until more than 50 per cent of them are dead, which demonstrates that the ­botulinum toxin is potent

During nine months undercover at Wickham Laboratories in Hampshire, the 27-year-old animal welfare worker — whose identity we have disguised — discovered that batches of the ­botulinum toxin produced by Ipsen Biopharm, a pharmaceutical company operating in 40 countries, were regularly tested on mice.

Called Dysport, the highly toxic ­botulinum product is used medically in the treatment of facial distortions in stroke victims or to suppress ­excessive drooling and sweating.

It paralyses muscles, preventing the distortions for up to eight months.
However, an unknown proportion of Dysport is used off-label for cosmetic purposes, like Botox, to smooth out facial wrinkles.

First, though, it is tested on mice using a protocol invented in the Twenties called the LD50 test — where LD stands for Lethal Dose.

This involves injecting the toxin into the mice until more than 50 per cent of them are dead, which demonstrates that the ­botulinum toxin is potent.
‘The mice were checked at regular intervals, and after a few days most were dead, having suffered terribly from increasing paralysis and ­eventual suffocation,’ says Jenny.

‘Mice that were not expected to ­survive until the next check were ­supposed to be humanely killed. This was done by putting them on the floor and breaking their neck with a pen. But sometimes the ­workers got it wrong and broke the mouse’s back instead.

‘The ones who survived the test were later put in a gas chamber and killed by carbon dioxide poisoning.

‘It’s disgusting Dysport is used to enhance someone’s vanity. I doubt many women would want to use it if they knew how much suffering it caused.

'And this isn’t a single set of tests to get a product licensed. It’s quality control that ­happens week in, week out.

‘I thought this was a thing of the past. I suspect most other people think that, too.’

Ipsen Biopharm says it is required by law to use the LD50 test, but when I asked what proportion of Dysport was used for cosmetic ­ ­purposes I got no reply.

A Home Office report into the BUAV investigation concluded that Wickham’s tests were conducted for medical, not cosmetic purposes but added: ‘It is nevertheless ­recognised that off-label use of a duly ­authorised medicine is permitted under EU and UK legislation.’ Wickham ­Laboratories says it has now improved its lab practices.

But this isn’t the only hole in the protection that is supposed to be afforded animals. There is another, caused by confusing and messy European law.

'Mice that were not expected to survive were supposed to be humanely killed. This was done by putting them on the floor and breaking their neck with a pen. But sometimes the ­workers got it wrong and broke the mouse’s back instead'

As we saw earlier, the European Cosmetics Directive forbids testing on animals — but another piece of legislation has been brought in that requires it on non-cosmetic products such as household detergents. It’s called Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals).

It came into effect in 2007 and is intended to ensure that all chemicals used by industry — some of which have never been tested — are safe. In most cases this will involve testing on animals.

This new ruling affects some ethical cosmetics companies because their products may contain the same ingredients as household goods and pharmaceuticals, and their suppliers — who had promised not to test on animals — have been ordered to do so under Reach.

‘We were told by one of our suppliers that they’d had to test sodium borate on animals, so we have had to remove it from our products,’ said Andrew Butler, campaigns director of the cosmetics outlet Lush, which rejects animal testing.
‘It’s crazy — sodium borate has been used safely in cold creams for 100 years. Why should animals have to die to test it today?

‘We are concerned that this is just the beginning. We don’t know what perfectly innocent ingredient our suppliers will be forced to test on animals next.’
The RSPCA has estimated that Reach testing will kill at least eight million animals, but others argue the figure could be as high as 50 million when unborn foetuses are taken into account. Earlier this month, even more depressing news began to filter out of Europe.

The last stage of the Cosmetics Directive, due to be introduced in 2013 and banning the sale in Europe of any cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world, is likely to be delayed for at least four years.

The cosmetics industry, which still tests on animals outside the EU, has told the European Commission that it has yet to find enough safe alternatives to animals testing. This means testing on animals will ­continue primarily in the U.S., Japan and China. If the ban had gone ahead, consumers could have been sure that what they were buying on the High Street had not been tested on animals.
But as things stand, they can’t really be sure — in spite of claims made on product labels.

It is difficult to accuse individual manufacturers of misleading ­labelling, because all their testing is secret, but animal welfare ­organisations have long been ­critical of the things they say.

For example: ‘This product has not been tested on animals’ may well be true. But it doesn’t mean the ingredients in the product haven’t, possibly in some laboratory outside the EU.

This is something that even the cosmetics industry admits. ‘Many of the claims that products are not tested on animals are ­narrow interpretations at best,’ says Dr Chris Flower, director-general of the Cosmetic, ­Toiletry and Perfumery Association. ‘Some of the ­others you could drive a coach and horses through.’
‘Take China, for example. If you want to sell your products there, the Chinese authorities will test your products on animals. You then say in Europe that your product isn’t tested on animals — but someone finds out that it has been in China. This is why some of the large companies are reluctant to give that assurance.’

All of which makes it ­difficult for ethical consumers to be sure of what they are buying.

For example, Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s biggest cosmetics producers, including Herbal Essences, Max Factor and Wella, says it would never dream of testing on animals anywhere in Europe.

However, P&G research papers submitted to the EU Scientific Committee on ­Consumer Products seem to ­contradict this image. It is true that its ‘finished’ cosmetic ­products haven’t been tested on animals, but there has certainly been testing of potential ingredients in the U.S.

For example, a number of studies dated as recently as 2005 detail the fatal effects of force-feeding orange dye to rats. After the rats died, they were cut open and their organs were found, not surprisingly, to have turned orange.
Similarly, another report for Wella details the effects of red dye, while in 2004 researchers told how they force-fed 100 pregnant female rats with butylparaben, a cosmetic ­preservative, for two weeks. Afterwards, they killed the rats and examined their foetuses for abnormalities.

When I asked the company how its ethical animal-testing claims could be reconciled with these reports, it referred me back to Dr Chris Flower.

He explained that the chemicals involved had been in use for years, but needed to be re-tested because of fresh safety concerns. This was required by the European Commission.

‘There were no recognised non-animal tests, so P&G — which was testing on behalf of the industry — had no choice but to test on ­animals,’ he said.

So how can you be sure that your cosmetics truly have been produced without causing animal suffering? Well, it is very difficult, not least because at some point in history virtually every ingredient has been tested on animals.

However, the BUAV has set up a scheme under which retailers and manufacturers adopt a fixed cut-off date, after which they can guarantee that no animal testing has taken place using their ingredients.

The BUAV advises on how this can be done and audits the production chain for the retailer. Called the Leaping Bunny Program , this accepts that ­animals may have suffered in the past, but they will not suffer in the future at any stage in the production of a cosmetic.

In the meantime, there are those such as Lush’s Andrew Butler who are beginning to ask why the big cosmetics companies need to test new ingredients anyway.

‘There are thousands of ingredients already out there,’ he says. ‘There are more than you could ever combine or experiment with in a lifetime. But the big cosmetic companies just want to put that magic word “new” on the box to improve their sales.

‘The next time you see that, ask yourself whether you really need to buy it. I mean, you can only get your hair so clean, can’t you?’

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