It wasn’t the year of the dog, the rat, or the rabbit, but 2013 brought luck to all these creatures as India and the European Union established bans on cosmetics with animal-tested ingredients. And after much social, political and economic pressure, China’s Food and Drug Administration finally announced their plans to phase out mandatory animal tests.
China remains one of the few countries to require cosmetic ingredients to be tested on animals. This has forced many major cosmetics companies into a moral dilemma: either miss out on a huge market or compromise their integrity and allow animal testing on products to be sold in China. Companies such as Avon, Mary Kay and Estée Lauder chose to sell in China after decades of cruelty-free practices. In an episode much publicized in animal rights circles, Urban Decay announced plans to sell in China, then ultimately backed out following customer outrage. Nature’s Gate, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Dermalogica, and Pangea Organics all left the Chinese market following discussions with PETA.
The suffering of animals in cosmetics testing is common knowledge. Rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and even dogs, cats and monkeys have ingredients applied to their eyes or abraded skin or forced down their throats. The animals are typically destroyed following these experiments, which are flawed to begin with due to physiological differences between humans and animals. The Humane Society estimates that up to 300,000 animals per year suffer in China’s cosmetics tests alone.
While U.S. consumers can purchase cruelty-free cosmetics with relative ease, animal rights advocates in China have no choice. The use of beauty aids isn’t a life-or-death matter, but it’s difficult to abstain from them entirely. It’s not a perfect world, and people are judged by their appearances in the workplace and in social situations. Avoiding hair care products and makeup makes it difficult to compete in these areas. Cosmetics have health applications, too; lotions, for example, are instrumental in treating various skin conditions.
China approved their first non-animal cosmetics test, the 3T3 Neutral Red Phototoxicity Assay already common in the U.S. and European Union, in the spring of 2012. Since then the Be Cruelty Free campaign launched in China , and the Humane Society, Chinese scientists, Britain’s Lush Cosmetics and pop star Wang Feifei have united in urging China to end their animal testing mandate.
The phase-out is slated to begin in June 2014, and will start with Chinese companies producing “non-special use” cosmetics, which include skin care, makeup, perfume, hair care and nail products. Once a new testing system is established, China may expand the system to include imported products and “special use” products such as sunscreens, deodorants, hair dyes and depilatories. Be Cruelty Free will continue to work with China toward a complete animal testing ban similar to India‘s and the European Union’s. Meanwhile, the Humane Society, in partnership with The Human Toxicology Project consortium, awarded an $80,000 grant to the Institute for In Vitro Sciences to support training China’s scientists and government regulators in humane testing procedures.
Hopefully, ethical cosmetics companies can soon benefit from China’s market, and those who currently sell in China can return to humane testing practices. Compassionate consumers can view a list of cruelty-free companies on Leaping Bunny.