Product Testing

AV magazine issue 2, 2010 2010 Issue #2 Consumer Power for Animals What's Cruelty-Free?
Vicki Katrinak

As a diabetic, who follows a gluten-free and vegan diet, I have always felt comfortable carefully scouring food product labels in search of additional information and ingredients to steer clear of. I consider myself an avid label reader, and yet I still have trouble deciphering marketing ploys from useful information. Companies count on consumer confusion over product labels, and in some cases are purposely deceptive in order to make sales to compassionate shoppers.

Many caring consumers carefully scan cosmetics, personal care, and household products for claims about animal testing. These claims take different forms, such as "cruelty-free," "not tested on animals," or the addition of some sort of bunny icon. However, it is always important to read these labels with a critical eye. Oftentimes, what you see is not what you get. That is why it is so important to arm yourself with the information you need to make purchasing decisions that are consistent with your desire for a cruelty-free life.

As concern about the use of animals in product testing reached a peak, companies scrambled to assure consumers that they did not employ unnecessary tests on rabbits, rats, mice, or guinea pigs. Suddenly, all sorts of cruelty-free claims appeared on product packaging along with a variety of bunny logos. Although the intention was to send a message about compassionate manufacturing practices, the result was confusion. In many cases it was virtually impossible to know what a company was trying to convey.

In a 2008 article drawing from the Mintel Global New Products Database Cosmetic Research, HAPPI Magazine reported that more and more companies are launching ethical cosmetic and skincare lines. The article reveals "cruelty-free is the most widely made ethical claim in new U.S. beauty products."[1]

Unfortunately, the types of claims companies are making are not always clear or verifiable. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even declares on its website that companies can make claims about animal testing indiscriminately, stating that the "unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms."[2] Companies' unregulated use of cruelty-free statements on their labels and websites makes it all the more important for consumers to learn what different claims may really mean for animals.

One common claim a company may make is that it does not test on animals. Unfortunately, this claim may only relate to the company itself and not to the ingredient suppliers or contract manufacturers that a company hires to test or create products on its behalf. It is not uncommon for companies to hire third parties to test their personal care and household products using animals. And while a company's claim that it does not test on animals may technically be true, in cases like this, it is obviously misleading.

Another assertion that a company may make on its website or correspondence with inquiring consumers is that it does not test on animals, unless required by law. This exception is one of the most often cited reasons that companies use to justify animal testing certain products or ingredients. Fortunately, companies that have made a commitment to only producing cruelty-free products have found ways to avoid dealing with animal testing requirements. There is no requirement either by the FDA, which regulates cosmetics, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which regulates household products, that these products be tested on animals.[3,4] Instead, these agencies require companies to be able to show that their products are safe.

"By using the Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide or looking for the Leaping Bunny Logo, a consumer knows that the company has made a commitment to eliminate all new animal testing from its product line, including the component ingredients." A company's decision on how it intends to substantiate safety is what determines its commitment to producing cruelty-free products. Thousands of ingredients have long been on the market, having already passed the test of time, and can be used in new combinations without triggering the need for new testing. In addition, companies can petition the agencies to accept safety test data that has been obtained through non-animal alternative methods. When a company asserts that it is required to test a new product or ingredient on animals, it is up to educated consumers to determine if the ends justify the means. While a new formulation may produce a better product for, say, combating the signs of aging, is it really necessary, if animal testing is involved?

Another claim often used to deflect consumer inquiries is that the "final product is not tested on animals." However, most product testing on animals actually occurs at the ingredient level, not at the finished product stage. A company may honestly proclaim that a finished product is not tested on animals but many of the component ingredients may have undergone one-time or repeated animal tests. Often, a company may not even be aware of what types of testing are occurring on individual ingredients, as the tests are being conducted by the ingredient suppliers directly. Certainly, it may be better for companies to declare their testing claims specifically about finished products, but the only way to assure that your purchases are not contributing to animal testing is to avoid products that subject ingredients, and formulations, as well as finished products to this type of safety testing.

With all of the different claims that are made to persuade consumers that a company cares about animals, it is hard to know whom to trust. The need for honest information is what makes the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics' (CCIC) Leaping Bunny Program so important. As an independent third party certification program, the Leaping Bunny Program has no commercial interest in providing consumers with information. Quite simply, the program was designed to give consumers confidence when they shop. By using the Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide or looking for the Leaping Bunny Logo, a consumer knows that the company has made a commitment to eliminate all new animal testing from its product line, including the component ingredients. All companies, large and small, are able to receive certification and be listed in the shopping guide at no cost. However, there is a one-time fee associated with licensing the Leaping Bunny Logo.

Because the Leaping Bunny Program adheres to strict standards and requires documentation of a company's no animal testing policy from ingredient suppliers and manufacturers, it is not surprising that it has received high marks from multiple magazines rating the reliability of different logos and certification programs. The Leaping Bunny Logo was evaluated in several magazines encouraging shoppers to look for meaningful logos. Consumer Reports' ShopSmart Magazine reported on the validity of the Leaping Bunny Logo in both its May 2008 and April 2010 issues.[5,6] Additionally, the Logo received accolades in Mother Jones,[7] Martha Stewart's Body + Soul,[8] and Fitness,[9] among others.

Until FDA and CPSC set clear guidelines on the use of terms like "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals," companies will continue to use such claims, regardless of accuracy, to market their products to compassionate consumers. Barring regulatory action to limit the free use of these terms, smart shoppers will need to seek out information on their own. Fortunately, when it comes to claims of animal testing, people need only refer to the Leaping Bunny Program for information that they can truly trust. By looking for the Leaping Bunny Logo or using the Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide, you will know that the cosmetic, personal care, and household products you buy are free of new animal testing.

Sources Cited

[1] HAPPI Magazine. (May 30, 2008). A Surge in Ethical Beauty Lines. Retrieved on May 26, 2010, from
[2] United States. Food and Drug Administration. (February 24, 2000). Cruelty Free/ Not Tested on Animals. Retrieved on May 27, 2010, from
[3] United States. Food and Drug Administration. (April 5, 2006). Animal Testing. Retrieved May on 27, 2010, from
[4] United States. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (August, 2002). Requirements under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act: Labeling and Banning Requirements for Chemicals and Other Hazardous Substances. Retrieved on May 27, 2010, from
[5] Consumer Reports. (May, 2008). When it's really worth spending extra on food. ShopSmart Magazine. pp. 47.
[6] Consumer Reports. (April, 2010). What's in that cleaner? ShopSmart Magazine. pp. 30.
[7] Clarren, Rebecca. (November/December, 2009). Is Your Eco-Label Lying? Mother Jones. Retrieved on May 27, 2010, from
[8] Barrett, Abbie. (2008, April). Beauty Basics: Label Lowdown. Body+Soul. pp. 50-51.
[9] Wyar, Leah. (July/August, 2009). Your Prettiest Summer Ever. Fitness. pp. 53.

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