Animal testing in China: Exemption 'undoubtedly the future' but practical challenges remain

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Foreign companies will still face hurdles even if animal testing exemptions are granted. ©GettyImages
Foreign companies will still face hurdles even if animal testing exemptions are granted. ©GettyImages

Related tags: China, Animal testing, Regulation

China is making momentous strides to remove the barrier of animal testing for imported cosmetics, but experts believe foreign companies will still face hurdles even if exemptions are granted.

Chinese consumers are increasingly inclined towards cruelty-free cosmetics, especially with the rising profile of clean beauty in the market.

“In recent years, more Chinese consumers are favouring clean beauty brands, including cruelty-free cosmetics. These brands have an advantage and may quickly occupy the market,” ​said Hedy He, senior regulatory analyst, during a webinar session hosted on ChemLinked​.

This would inevitably foster competition and encourage innovation within the local market.

“The flood of more imported brands is bound to have an impact on local brands and bring fiercer competition to the market. It will force the enterprises to conduct product research, development and also launch more competitive products,” ​said He.

This is pushing the Chinese authorities to rethink its stance on animal testing, and it has made significant progress in recent years towards reducing its reliance on those methods.

“The Chinese government has always been conservative with regard to animal testing. It is unlikely animal testing will be banned entirely in the short term but there are positive signs. The animal testing exemption is undoubtedly the future of the trend,” ​said He.

In 2013, it made it possible for domestic companies to use safety assessment reports as alternatives to animal testing for general cosmetics.

As of today, China’s National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) has approved seven alternative methods to animal testing.

It has also remained in close cooperation with associations such as Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS) to promote the verification and application of alternative methods.

From a regulatory perspective, the exemptions would help Chinese authorities gather more experience on the matter and could hopefully pave the way for a wider exemption.

“If China fully abolishes animal testing for imported general cosmetics, it may extend to imported special use cosmetics when the conditions permit,” ​said He.

Conditions attached

As the cosmetics industry waits in eager anticipation for the Cosmetic Supervision and Administration Regulation (CSAR) to come into effect on January 1 next year, many questions surrounding the exemption of animal testing for imported cosmetics remain.

The CSAR document expressly noted that general cosmetics would be exempted from animal testing – but not without conditions that may prove tricky.

For instance, it would require safety assessors to have a professional background in the field of chemistry, toxicology and would need at last five years of relevant working experience along with working understanding of cosmetics manufacturing, quality control and toxicological assessment.

REACH24H senior regulatory technical engineer Vicky Sun believes this would be a challenge for cosmetic companies.

“It’s quite a big challenge for most of the enterprises, especially for the small ones. I think that maybe in the near future this kind of enterprise may rely on third parties to help them go about safety assessment.”

Additionally, Sun questioned China’s current infrastructure and its ability to provide companies with the service that would allow them to bypass animal testing.

“China is not as mature as Europe; in the current market... there are few institutions that provide [the service of] safety assessment. The abolishment of animal testing is the trend, but it still depends on the current situation in the Chinese market.”

Additionally, the government has not specified if overseas safety assessments reports and assessors will be accepted, said Sun.

“The good news is that we can see the trend that animal testing will l be exempt in the near future, but how it will work in practice, we still need more details.”

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