By Marguerite Nugent
CLEVELAND, June 30 (Reuters) - After years of debate and negotiation, Procter & Gamble Co. on Wednesday announced it was ending the use of animal tests for about 80 percent of its products.
Amy Neltner, a spokeswoman for the consumer products giant, said the decision does not cover the company's food and pharmaceutical products but P&G wants to eliminate all animal testing and will do so "as soon as science allows."
The change covers Cincinnati-based P&G's beauty, fabric, home care and paper products, except where product testing in animals is required by law.
Animal rights activists have long campaigned for an end to such tests, circulating photographs of caged laboratory animals with festering sores and weeping eyes to support their cause.
While one group welcomed the news, its spokeswoman said much remained to be done to eliminate all animal testing.
"It is a small hop forward, but P&G deserves a slap on the back. But we are not taking our hooks out until we get all animals out of testing," said Mary Beth Sweetland, vice president and director of research and investigation for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Financial analysts who follow the company said they did not think this decision would have any material impact on the company's bottom line. Neltner said P&G would redeploy the money and resources it would otherwise have spent on animal testing to develop alternative testing methods.
In a market made volatile by the U.S. Federal Reserve's ruling on interest rates, the stock of P&G, a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, was one point higher at $87 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
In making the announcement, Larry Games, P&G's vice president of global product safety, said "Science and technology have advanced to the point where we can confirm the safety of these finished products through non-animal alternatives."
The P&G decision applies to about 80 percent of the company's product portfolio, including colour cosmetics; shampoos and hairstyling products; skin care products; tissue and towel products; laundry and dishwashing detergents; and household cleaners. The decision is effective immediately in all countries where the company operates.
P&G, which sells some 300 consumer brands ranging from Tide detergent to Pampers diapers to Pringles potato chips, has invested nearly $100 million in the last 15 years in the study and development of alternative research methods.
These methods include the development of historical research databases, computer models, in-vitro tests and other advances in toxicology. For example, it said, a product's potential to cause certain types of eye irritation can be evaluated today using cell cultures rather than animals.
"Our cardinal rule is quite simple: Human safety comes first," Games said. "Our analysis of non-animal alternatives made us confident that we could move forward with this decision and still maintain our safety standards."
Neltner noted that the alternatives also need to be validated and approved in the U.S. and other countries where the company operates and sells products.