In order to prevent the dangerous side effects of cosmetics, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that these products be tested for safety. Since the mid-twentieth century, the large majority of these tests have been performed on animals. These laboratory animals were—and still are—put through cruel and painful tests. In recent years, the activism of animal rights advocates has encouraged research that maintains a positive relationship between humans and animals. This has proven to be highly relevant to many disciplines, including the cosmetic industry. Specifically, it is necessary that we continue to re-evaluate the role that testing on animals plays in the cosmetic industry—and make the necessary changes. Although the testing is cruel and avoidable, it is far from obsolete. Legal steps have been taken, in the form of bans against the test or proposed bans. Activism against animal testing is evidence of a modern understanding of our relationship with animals, but legislation needs to be strengthened to avoid loopholes and encourage change in order to protect animals from these inhumane tests.In order to make changes to how humans treat animals, it is first necessary to redefine animals and our relationship to them. As we continue to learn more about the world around us, particularly in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, the lens through which we view animals becomes clearer. No longer can animals be considered the unfeeling property of humans, existing for our own use only. Modern science and research proves that animals are capable of both physical and emotional pain, but this refined understanding is a relatively new concept. When specifically examining the case of testing on animals in laboratories, Bethany Hope Rishell offers a contemporary explanation of animals and the pain they experience:
Many studies show that all mammals’ central nervous systems cause them to feel pain just as surely as people feel pain. Moreover, mice, rats, and other commonly utilized laboratory mammals have a demonstrated capacity for emotional suffering in addition to raw, physical pain.
Hundreds of millions of animals, who are
capable of not only experiencing physical pain but also emotional pain, suffer
from being held in laboratories and tested on every year. Being held in a
purely captive state, laboratory animals are subject to intense emotional
discomfort. In the past, animals have often been treated like objects; however,
it is necessary that we revise this understanding. Animals experience the world
in a much more similar manner to humans than some may think. Clearly, given
what we know today, it would be ignorant to dismiss animals as insentient and
completely passive beings.
Information like this—that animals have far more capacity to experience physical and emotional stimuli than once recognized—challenges some commonly held beliefs. Piers Bierne, author of the book Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships, discusses these persisting stereotypes of animals. People may cite examples such as animals’ inability to feel pain, their lower levels of sentience, inability to use tools, unawareness of abstract concepts like death, or their inability to speak in language. Bierne is quick to negate anyone who holds these beliefs: “Yet most of the alleged differences between humans and animals have no basis in fact. Most are altogether false” (7-8). These commonly held beliefs come together to form a general opinion of animals as less than or inferior to humans. While it is impossible to deny that there are some capabilities and some levels of intellectual capacities that animals are unable to possess, it would be wrong to deny their rights. Once these false stereotypes are abolished, we can approach the issue of animal cruelty with an open mind. From that perspective, we can see how animals ought to be treated as valuable beings. Therefore, testing on animals, specifically for cosmetic products, is a cruel practice that needs to be re-evaluated. With a more complete understanding of the human-animal relationship, it is important that we carefully consider our treatment of animals.
Although it is clear that we have made progress in developing an ethical understanding of the human-animal relationship, it is not always applied to practical issues, such as legislation. Often, the legal protections put in place for animals are insufficient and demonstrate a lack of understanding of animal rights. Bierne writes generally of the discipline of criminology, where animals are victims: “Criminology has been slow to respond to recent developments […] When animals do appear in criminology, they are almost always passive, insentient objects acted on by humans” (3). Further, Bierne discusses how practically throughout history, animals have been viewed as an extension of humans. Although they have received little to no recognition as anything other than property of people in the eyes of the law, Bierne does appear hopeful for the future. He writes about modern scholars of criminology and sociology increasingly including animals in their works, a topic often ignored in the past. I agree with Bierne in his claim that change is being put into place as of recent years, but this change is still insufficient. Legislation must continue to change until the laws reflect the human-animal relationship that has been explored and defined in the paragraphs above.
One organization that has attempted to
implement legislation that protects animals from tests is that of the European
Union. For example, the organization has put in place marketing bans regarding
the cosmetic products tested on animals. A closer look at these marketing laws,
however, exposes flaws and loopholes that still leave animals unprotected.
Kristian Fischer, in her analysis of these bans, explains how the legislation
is complicated and open to multiple interpretations. For instance, the ban
allows for cosmetic products to still be marketed if they were tested on
animals in order to meet the regulations of other EU laws. If a company can
prove that their testing is only motivated by meeting other requirements, the
bans do not apply. The legislation also allows for tests to be performed inside
the European Union as long as they were being marketed in other countries.
Fischer explains this more thoroughly with a hypothetical situation in which a
company wants to perform tests on live animals with the purpose of marketing
their products in a separate country, but later decides to market the product
in the EU: “then, the marketing ban of Art 18(1) b) EU Cosmetics Regulation
should not be applicable; because then, the animal tests were not performed to
fulfill the requirements of the EU Cosmetics Regulation but to meet the
requirements of third country cosmetics legislation.” The enforcement of
current bans in place depends heavily on the motivation of the company or
researcher; as a result, it is easy for companies to evade the measures and
continue to practice tests on animals for products. Clearly, changes must be
made in order for legislation to more effectively play a role in preventing
testing on animals.
Another flaw with the current legislation is
that it does not encourage much research in finding new in vitro alternatives
to live animal testing. In vitro testing refers to those done artificially, not
on any live animal, as opposed to in vivo, on live animals. The case of skin
sensitization in the University of Barcelona’s study provides evidence of this
new method. Maria Pilar Vinardell writes that “[n]o studies on skin
sensitization were performed in vitro, despite the fact that there are some
validated and OECD accepted methods” (Vinardell). Her research shows that some progress has
been made in finding acceptable alternatives for testing skin sensitization,
though Vinardell does acknowledge that these methods have been accepted only in
the very recent past.
Laws should be written that value artificial
or other humane alternatives over the use of live animals in tests. If
legislation were put in place that further encouraged the use of in vitro
testing rather than relying on in vivo studies, it would incentivize the
research and practice of these humane alternatives. Some examples of these
alternatives include artificial cells, computerized tests, or human embryonic
stem cells. Not only would these tests help protect animals from senseless
harm, they offer practical benefits as well. For example, artificial tests
often provide more accurate results than animal tests—the reactions of animals
often do not actually closely mirror the reactions of humans to products
(Doke). Researchers such as Sonali K. Doke affirm that ethics aside, using
animals in tests requires a large investment of time, money, and skilled labor.
Obtaining and housing animals for tests is both time consuming and expensive.
Artificial methods provide a cost-effective solution to move away from testing
on animals. By altering our laws, companies will be even more motivated to test
products on something other than animals.
Given the available options, it is not
impractical to push for an increased use of alternative methods. Rishell writes
specifically about one alternative to animal testing: the use of human
embryonic stem cells (hESCs). These hESCs are either left over from fertility
labs and donated to researchers or created synthetically by scientists. They
provide a highly viable alternative to use for cosmetic companies in place of
testing on live animals. While there are some people who object to the use of
hESCs, I believe that they are an option worth exploring. The use of hESCs is
underfunded, and even criminalized in some cases, due to its opponents. They
deem the use of hESCs as murderous on the grounds that hESCs should be
considered human. Meanwhile, the use of animals in tests is often encouraged by
the law and norms of the industry. This reality seems absurd, considering the
fact that animals have been proven to feel pain and pleasure while the hESCs do
not. These hESCs must be harvested very early on to be of any use to
scientists, and are thus not sentient at the time. Rishell offers a response to
naysayers, claiming “many modern-day deontologists maintain that sentience is a
necessary trait for an entity to be deemed a person with moral standing”
(Rishell). The hESCs “unquestionably lack the ability to suffer,” which
certainly complicates any claim that they are feeling human beings. Left-over
embryos that are not used in tests end up wasting away in freezers and
eventually self-destructing. Given the information presented, hESCs are clearly
a practical alternative that should be further explored and used. Unlike
animals, they do not experience any kind of pain. Legislation should encourage
the use of hESCs and like alternatives, not criminalize and discourage it.
The European Union is not the only set of
countries to make legal changes in protecting animals from being tested on for
cosmetics. Laws differ widely from nation to nation, some far more progressive
than others. Israel banned the sale, marketing, and import of any cosmetic
products involved with animal testing, effective in 2013. Norway has
legislation in place that very closely mirrors the language of the European
Union laws. India became the first Asian country to legalize protections for
animals, making alternatives to animal testing mandatory (Kantamneni). These
legal steps are proof that within recent years, human perspective on animals
has been altered; however, there are still many countries that lack these
protections. In fact, 80 percent of countries still have not made the tests
illegal (The Body Shop).
The United States, for one, is only beginning
to consider proposals to ban cosmetics testing on animals. The proposed
legislation in the United States, on the basis of preventing animal cruelty, is
the Humane Cosmetics Act. The act is supported by US Representative Martha
McSally, who asserted that, “The cosmetics industry is already using
alternative cutting edge testing methods that are safer, cheaper, and don’t
hurt animals. It’s time the United States join the ranks of over 30 other
countries in the developed world to stand against this vile practice.” McSally
recognizes that testing products on animals is both cruel and increasingly
unnecessary. Support for the Humane Cosmetics Act appears to be a bipartisan
issue, led by a Republican representative with endorsement from both sides of
the aisle. The act would prohibit the selling or transporting of cosmetic
products in interstate commerce if the product was involved at all in testing
on animals. If passed, the Humane
Cosmetics Act would certainly be an effective legal step, but it will take
further legislative changes to effectively protect animals from unnecessary cruelty.
Where governments are failing, some cosmetic
companies take actions into their own hands. Some businesses have moved away
from animal testing without any legal pressure. The Body Shop is one company
that has been working with the non-profit organization Cruelty Free
International. They are committed to creating a global framework to end testing
on animals, on the basis that it is harmful to animals and there are effective
alternatives. One step they have taken together is to bring a petition, complete
with 8.3 million signatures, to the New York City United Nations headquarters
(The Body Shop). For companies like The Body Shop, moving away from performing
tests on animals is a moral and ethical issue that they can focus on as a
corporation. Though a more cynical perspective, initiatives like these present
a public relations opportunity. The animal-friendly business model certainly is
a lucrative aspect for customers. The Body Shop is not alone in its efforts;
there are many other cosmetic companies which have made efforts to reduce or
altogether eliminate tests on animals. Unfortunately, these cruelty free goals
are not universal. Many businesses around the world continue to test their
products on animals. Some of these companies may simply be following the norms
that they always have instead of acting to implement change. Since the
twentieth century, products have been tested on animals, so the data found,
though through inhumane methods, appears reliable and useful–sometimes
deceptively so. Additionally, in some countries, the tests on animals are
actually not only legal, but mandatory. China is one of these
countries—although within the past year, legislation has been proposed to
change this reality. Though not a
ubiquitous practice, when companies do step up, they can make a difference in
ending animal cruelty.
No cosmetic product is worth the prolonged
suffering of any animal. As humans, we cannot be insensitive to the emotional
and physical pain that animals experience. I believe it is part of our
responsibility to do what we can to protect them. In many cases, I am not alone in this
thought. The European Union, along with other countries, has taken legal action
to put an end to the cruel tests on animals, yet loopholes still exist that
allow companies to practice tests on innocent animals. Some countries need a
push to finally implement the legislation that has already been drawn up. In
other places, there exist no protections at all, which clearly needs to change.
Through legal change, the use of existing alternative methods will become more
common. Legislation should encourage researchers to continue investigating even
more alternatives for safety tests. It is also necessary to change the mindset
of companies that still test on animals. They need to recognize the rights of
animals, just as organizations like The Body Shop have already done. Through a
combination of continued legislative action, as well as a universal change in
ideology, the practice of testing on animals can come to an end.
Bierne, Piers. Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009, pp. 165-193.
“The Body Shop And Cruelty Free International Bring A Record-Breaking 8.3 Million Signatures To The United Nations To End Cosmetic Animal Testing Globally.” PRN Asia, 4 October 2018. Infotrac Newsstand, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A556866949/STND.
Doke, Somali K. “Alternatives to Animal Testing: A Review.” Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, Science Direct, July 2015, pp. 223-229. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319016413001096.
Fischer, Kristian. “Animal Testing and Marketing Bans of the EU Cosmetics Legislation.” European Journal of Risk Regulation, vol. 6, no. 4, 2010, pp. 613-621.
Kantemneni, Visala. “Cosmetics Animal Testing Has Been Banned in these Amazing Places.” One Green Planet, 2014. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/countries-that-have-banned-cosmetics-animal-testing/.
Rishell, Bethany Hope. “Harming Humans via Animal Analysis: A Utilitarian Critique of Regulatory Requirements and Emphases in the Pharmaceutical, Cosmetic, and Industrial Chemicals Industries.” Quinnipiac Health Law Journal, vol. 21, no. 2, Nexus Uni, 2018, pp. 203-238.
Targeted News Service. “Rep. McSally Introduces Bipartisan Bill to End Inhumane Cosmetic Testing on Animals.” Targeted News Service, 2017, Nexus Uni.
Vinardell, Pilar Maria. “Alternative Methods to Animal Testing for the Safety and Evaluation of Cosmetic Ingredients: An Overview.” Department of Biochemistry and Physiology, Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences, Universitat de Barcelona, 2 September 2017.