If you thought that dripping cosmetics into the eyes of innocent rabbits belongs to history, we will have to disappoint you. In many parts of the world, laboratory animals are still being used to test cosmetic ingredients and products. And that’s absurd, considering that thousands of existing cosmetic chemicals have already been established as safe and that non-animal test methods exist as well.
Since the 1980′s, there have been massive protests in order to stop animal testing. Currently, cosmetic testing on animals is only banned across the European Union, while the sales and marketing of animal tested cosmetics in the EU are still legal. As a result, European companies move their testing to other parts of the world. At the same time, non-EU cosmetics companies sell their animal tested products in European shops.
Humane Society International (HSI) is one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world and has just launched “Be Cruelty-Free”, a global campaign to end animal testing for cosmetics. I interviewed Wendy Higgins (EU Communications Direction for the Humane Society International/UK) to talk about the absence of a global ban on animal testing and HSI’s struggle to end animal testing.
For decades, people have been trying to end animal testing for cosmetic purposes. How is it possible that today animal testing is only banned in Europe and not elsewhere in the world?
“Banning animal testing across the largest cosmetics market in the world – the European Union – was a major achievement. It did take time, legislative change often does and especially when you have the vested interest of a large and influential global industry, but that fact that we did achieve it was truly historic. It’s important too because it now acts as a potential catalyst for change elsewhere in the world. Humane Society International is encouraging the rest of the world to follow the EU’s lead and end the suffering of cosmetics testing on animals.”
The EU legislation still leaves a loophole. Although animal testing is banned, the sales and marketing of animal tested cosmetics are still legal across the EU. Do you expect that a wider EU ban – also covering sales and marketing – can be achieved in the near future?
“The sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics is due to be banned within the EU from March 2013, so that will be another defining moment in our campaign. The sales ban is vital because it isn’t ethically consistent to allow the sale of cosmetics that have been tested in ways that are now illegal within the EU’s own laboratories. HSI has been collecting signatures for our CrueltyFree2013 petition to save the sales ban because the Commission had suggested that a delay to implementation, or even a weakening of the ban, could be possible. We have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and it really demonstrates the strength of public feeling across the whole of the EU. Consumers wants the EU to be cruelty-free in 2013, and EU policy makers must listen to that and implement the ban they promised.”
Humane Society has launched the largest-ever global campaign “Be Cruelty-Free” to end animal testing for cosmetics. The campaign is described as a ‘formidable force for change’. What makes this campaign so powerful and different from previous campaigns against animal testing?
“HSI is a global charity so the fact that we’ve been able to launch the campaign simultaneously across the EU, USA, Canada, Australia, India etc is what makes it so much bigger than anything that has been attempted before. HSI intends to use our experience and expertise gathered from our EU campaign, to achieve success in other key global regions and the campaign and lobbying efforts in each of those regions will genuinely feel like it is a part of something much larger, a worldwide push to end cosmetics cruelty.
Can you give an example of what experience and expertise gathered from the EU campaign will be used in the current global campaign?
“It has been very useful in our EU campaign, and will also be in our global campaign, to demonstrate that the traditional animal toxicity tests used to test cosmetics at the moment, are not the most scientifically robust method of establishing a product or ingredient’s safety. In fact scientific analysis shows us that there are a great many deficiencies in animal tests. By contrast, non-animal test methods represent the cutting-edge in modern science, more reliable and human-relevant as well as being more humane. For example, there are a number of skin tests available that use human reconstructed skin, such as EPISKIN, EpiDerm and SkinEthic, as wells as the 3T3 neutral red uptake test for sunlight-induced ‘photo toxicity’, and the Bovine Cornea Opacity and Permeability test for eye corrosion.”
If traditional animal toxicity tests are not the most reliable method of establishing a product or ingredient’s safety why do some organizations still prefer to test their products on animals, instead of using more reliable non-animal test methods?
“Habit and convention has a large part to play. Animal testing is the method that has been used for decades so many companies are familiar with it, and safety data produced via animal tests is also what national regulatory bodies are familiar with. That scientific convention has
meant that companies and regulators in many countries are clinging on to an old-fashioned and poor-performing test system, and that has to change.”
What can HSI do to change this scientific convention?
“HSI’s message to the world’s policy makers and cosmetics industry is that ending animal testing is not just about ending suffering, it’s also about improving consumer safety by shifting away from unreliable old-fashioned tests and adopting instead the very latest methods that modern science has to offer. So part of what HSI is doing is familiarizing companies, regulators and scientists with these new test methods. In some countries, these techniques are still poorly understood so HSI wants to de-mystify modern science. We are confident that the superior reliability and efficiency of the new test methods will speak for themselves.”
Beside habit and convention, which other factors can motivate cosmetic companies to continue with animal testing instead of adopting modern test methods?
“Some companies continue to test on animals because they place profit before compassion and insist on using and developing ‘new to the world’ ingredients and this can trigger the requirement to test on animals. That’s because there aren’t yet available non-animal alternative tests for every single area of safety data that needs to be produced. That’s not a problem for a company with a genuinely cruelty-free ethos because they can produce exciting and innovative products by using a combination of the 1000s of existing cosmetic chemicals that are already established as safe, and available non-animal test methods. But if a company decides that it is more important to them to use new ingredients than to avoid animal testing, and new data is required for that new ingredient in an area for which there isn’t currently available a non-animal alternative, then new animal testing will likely be performed. That’s why we say that companies always have a choice, they choose to operate in such a way that makes them either cruelty-free or not, and that’s about the choices they make as a manufacturer.”
Until now, what has been achieved with the global “Be Cruelty-Free” campaign, and what’s next?
“There are lots of elements to our Be Cruelty-Free campaign and that’s what makes it so exciting and hopefully what will make it ultimately successfully. It’s essential to reach out to consumers and to utilize their enthusiasm for an end to animal testing of cosmetics. So we’ve been collecting petition signatures and pledges and our hope is people will become long-term advocates for the campaign because we’re going to continue to need their support. We’ll be calling on consumers to communicate with their national policy makers too, and political lobbying in each region forms another really powerful element on our work. HSI is a very solutions-led organization so we’ll be delivering to policy makers a solution to the scientific and ethical problem that is animal testing, it will be a manifesto for change.”
“We’ve been lucky enough so far to have the support from a host of global celebrities such as Ricky Gervais, Leona Lewis, Dame Judi Dench and Mary McCartney for the EU phase of the campaign, so we’ll be bringing that support to other regions too with some exciting stuff around the corner. And we’ll be working with companies too. Companies manufacturing in a cruelty-free way are often the very best advocates for industry-wide change because they demonstrate that you don’t need to test on animals to be commercially successful. HSI is determined to achieve a world where no animal has to suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics and we believe that our Be Cruelty-Free campaign will make that world a reality.”
Wendy Higgins has more than ten years’ experience working in animal advocacy, specialising in media, communications and campaigning with special expertise in animal experiments issues. As a passionate animal protection professional, Wendy has worked with NGOs, politicians and companies across the globe to bring an end to the suffering of animals in laboratories.
Do you want to support the HSI “Be Cruelty-Free” campaign? You can sign the global pledge here.
No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, by Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons