The use of non-animal tests to assure consumer safety has followed an upward trajectory for at least the last 20 years and that trend has accelerated as countries around the world move to prohibit the use of animal tests for cosmetics. The most significant boost to this trend is the closing of the European market to animal tested cosmetics which came into force in March of 2013.
London-based Cruelty Free International was instrumental in ushering in the EU ban and has since been working around the globe to see other countries match this progress. Many countries including Norway, Switzerland, India, Guatemala, Turkey, and Israel have enacted laws that mirror those of the EU and in Canada, Australia and Brazil legislation has moved or is moving respectively through national legislatures.
Amidst stalled federal action, states are stepping up. Bills have been introduced in New York, Hawaii, and California that would phase-out the sale of animal-tested cosmetics within state boundaries. The New York Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act introduced in 2016, and again in 2017, by assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal has been followed this year by the Hawaii Cruelty Free Cosmetics by State senator Mike Gabbard (D)and the California Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act by California State senator Cathleen Galgiani (D).
These bills are a response to growing public opposition to animal testing, the availability of modern non-animal testing methods, and a desire for the US to match progress seen in other countries.
According to Rosenthal, “The cosmetics industry was forced to respond to public clamor for environmentally conscious and safe cosmetics by creating paraben-free, BHA-free cosmetics and green cosmetics. Now the public is demanding cruelty-free cosmetics because many understand one can't look or feel beautiful if animals must suffer for it. My legislation will require that all cosmetics sold in New York State are cruelty-free. Beauty might come with a price, but animal cruelty is far too high a price to pay."
Of his bill, Gabbard said, “Cosmetic companies must already use modern non-animal test methods in order to sell products in more than 30 countries around the world. Meeting the same standard for Hawaii makes good sense.”
And Galgiani has stated that, “Inaction at the federal level compels California to lead the way in ensuring a cruelty-free cosmetics market for its citizens by barring any new ingredients or cosmetics that are tested on animals.”
The reaction from the cosmetics industry to cosmetic animal testing bans has always been a bit of a mixed bag. In Europe, individual cosmetic companies like The Body Shop were actively engaged in supporting the new regulations while others, such as Cosmetics Europe — the European trade association for the cosmetics industry, actively fought against.
However, after five years of the full package of testing and marketing prohibitions, we see that the opposition’s direst predictions have failed to come to fruition. Indeed, Europeans still have a wide variety of safe cosmetics available to them, small cosmetic businesses have continued to thrive and U.S. exports of cosmetics to the EU have actually increased since 2013. Industry is now looking for innovative ways to respond to growing demands from consumers for sustainable, cruelty-free shopping.
Can consensus between industry, regulators, consumers and NGOs be achieved? Statements from industry lobbyists in California indicate an acceptance that change is on the horizon. At a recent committee hearing on the California Cruelty Free Cosmetic Act where details of the bill’s scope were being debated, Barry Broad, a lobbyist for the Teamsters who represent manufacturers, said, “I do believe actually that the proponents and opponents (of the bill) are not really that far apart. We agree that we should join the European Union in a model that is consistent with the European Union.”
Mandy Lee, representing the Personal Care Products Council for California said, “We are supporting full alignment with the EU. To be very clear, we want to end animal testing as well.”
As the fifth largest economy in the world, and with a population greater than Canada’s, California’s progress toward ending the sale of animal-tested cosmetics is hugely significant. It would certainly be simpler for industry and consumers were the U.S. to enact uniform federal regulations on the issue rather than have a patchwork of individual state laws. But these state efforts can serve as a catalyst to bring stakeholders to the table and to help inform a way forward for federal legislation.
Monica Engebretson is North American campaign manager for Cruelty Free International, an organization that advocates against animal testing.