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A dog marches beside boxes of petitions demanding a ban on animal tested cosmetic products in Canada being delivered to Parliament Hill on May 28, 2018.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is poised to ban the testing of cosmetics on animals after years of discussion, a delay animal-welfare advocates say has been embarrassing for Canada.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is set to push forward the changes to the federal Food and Drugs Act, which would also outlaw the sale of cosmetics that were tested on animals, Health Canada confirmed.

The ban would cover a range of products, including make-up, perfume, body lotion, hair-styling products, shaving foam and nail polish. It would extend to cosmetics that contain animal-tested ingredients.

The impending change to the law follows years of campaigning by MPs, and an election pledge by the Liberals to take action on the issue.

More than 40 countries, including Britain, have already banned testing of cosmetic products on animals, as have a number of U.S. states, including California, Maine and Louisiana.

In 2013, the European Union introduced a complete ban on animal cosmetic testing, and on selling cosmetics that were tested that way.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has been critical of delays in introducing a Canadian ban. “We are finally in a place where industry and animal welfare advocates are on the same page,” he said.

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The federal government is also looking to reduce animal testing in other areas. Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada are preparing, in some cases, to alter a requirement that new chemicals and drugs be tested for toxicity on animals. The two departments said in a notice last week that their intent is to “reduce reliance” on the practice.

Those regulatory changes would allow chemicals and drugs to be tested for safety using proven alternatives to animals, a change animal welfare advocates have long sought. The U.S. approved a similar change last month.

“The Department is developing a proposal to ban cosmetic testing on animals and continues to support the development and use of alternative methods to animal testing for other products or uses,” Health Canada said in a statement.

Cosmetic testing on animals – mainly rats, mice, guinea pigs and rabbits – includes tests on eyes for irritation, and on skin for allergic reactions. Such testing is already extremely rare in Canada, according to the Cosmetics Alliance of Canada, which represents Canada’s cosmetics and personal care products industry.

Darren Praznik, the alliance’s president and chief executive, said the organization is “fully supportive” of a ban.

“All the stakeholders, including industry, have worked very hard over the last several years to advance a cosmetics animal testing ban in Canada, including aligning on the principles with Health Canada to ensure workable legislation,” he said. “While we appreciate the delays due to the pandemic, it is time for government to finally get this done.”

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Charu Chandrasekera, executive director of the University of Windsor’s Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods, said there are many proven alternatives to animal tests.

She said Canada’s record on reducing scientific tests on animals, compared to the EU, is “absolutely embarrassing.” A ban, she added, is long overdue.

“We have no excuse at all for not doing this,” she said. “There are thousands of ingredients that have been tested already.”

She said not much cosmetic testing on animals is still carried out in Canada, and she noted that “cruelty free” cosmetic brands are already widely available.

The federal Liberals and Conservatives both had introducing bans on cosmetic testing in their 2021 election platforms. The move is also supported by the Green Party and the NDP.

Health Canada said in a statement that a broad consultation would have to precede the two sets of proposed regulatory changes this year. It added that no changes are expected to be finalized before August, 2023.

In Ottawa, a private member’s bill aimed at banning animal cosmetic testing, tabled in 2015 by a now-retired Conservative senator, Carolyn Stewart Olsen, spent four years being discussed in Parliament, but failed to become law.

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