China promises to end mandatory animal testing for certain beauty products

lab rat
CC BY 2.0 jschroe

Last month, the Chinese Food and Drug Administration announced it would loosen its regulations surrounding animal testing for cosmetics, starting in June 2014. While animal testing is legal in approximately 80 percent of the world, including the United States, China is the only country where it is mandatory for all cosmetics and beauty products sold within its borders. Unfortunately the legal adjustment would apply only to domestically produced, “non-specialized” cosmetics, such as shampoo, soap, and certain skin products, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Animal rights groups, cosmetics companies, and consumers welcomed the announcement, since many have participated in a campaign to end mandatory animal testing for the past two years. David Neal, director of Animal Asia, an animal welfare group, expressed surprised that the change happened so quickly. He told CNN, “That’s a very significant development because it took many years for the European Union to allow these products to be sold.” The EU just passed its own complete ban on animal testing in March 2013.

The change will enable some cosmetics companies to be more transparent. Up until now, those truly committed to cruelty-free production have not been able to tap into China’s $22-billion cosmetics industry. According to an article in the Huffington Post, some companies got around the restriction by telling consumers that they only test on animals when necessary; in other words, they test “when it’s financially advantageous to do so.” Others just lie, continuing to test on animals for the Chinese market while telling consumers otherwise. (Those certified by Leaping Bunny have remained true to their production principles.)

While I am happy to hear of this change, and hopeful that it indicates a future shift toward a total ban on animal testing for all products, I can’t help but wish that testing were altogether unnecessary. I believe it could be, if consumers consistently opted for products that don’t contain the usual carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting, reactive ingredients found in most mainstream cosmetics. (Check out David Suzuki’s list of the “Dirty Dozen.”) My philosophy is that everything I put on my skin should be edible; after all, it gets absorbed by my skin and enters my bloodstream, no matter where it goes on my body. In theory, if I can’t eat it, then I shouldn’t use it. In this way, humans become their own testers, but are at less risk because of safer ingredients.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing whether the Chinese FDA actually goes through with its promise. Hopefully China doesn’t get distracted like the United Kingdom government, which promised in 2010 to ban animal testing for household cleaning products, but still hasn’t gotten around to publishing its final plans for the ban.

Tags: Animal Welfare | Beauty Lab | Beauty Treatments | China | Cosmetics