India becomes the first South Asian country to ban testing of cosmetic products on animals. Sriya Narayanan celebrates this historic decision.
Television constantly beams a series of glossy commercials that promise bouncier hair, shinier lips and fewer pimples. The fairytale endings they dangle in front of viewers often hide a sinister back-story: a lot of bunnies were blinded for that shampoo, and a million mice may have choked on that lipstick. As of last month however, these critters have much celebrating to do, for India made history by becoming the first South Asian country to ban the testing of cosmetic products on animals. This puts us nearly on a par with the European Union that went a step further by banning the sale of “cruel cosmetics” that were made in other countries.
Getting rid of animal testing has long been on the agenda for several rights groups which draw attention to what a lab animal goes through, especially when there are compassionate alternatives available. “Mice, guinea pigs and rabbits are made to endure painful tests such as skin and eye irritation, in which chemicals are rubbed onto the shaved skin or dripped into the eyes,” say Alokparna Sengupta and Nuggehalli Jayasimha of Humane Society International (HSI), India, one of the key organisations that helped bring about the ban. They reveal that rabbits are chosen because they cannot cry, and hence have no natural way of weeping the harmful chemical away. “Other tests include repeated force-feeding studies lasting weeks or months to look for signs of general illness; and even widely condemned “lethal dose” tests, in which animals are forced to swallow massive amounts of a test chemical to determine the dose that causes death. At the end of a test, the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation.”
The good news is that the Bureau of Indian Standards has declared this abuse illegal. The even better news is that companies that have always been cruelty-free will have the well-deserved advantage of being ahead of the curve. Natasha Shah, founder of the successful Mumbai-based cosmetics company The Nature’s Co, welcomes this milestone. She states that her organisation finds animal testing morally wrong. “We use in-vitro methods i.e. clinically using the products on human skin, on people who voluntarily participate in the same,” she says, adding that an animal test is meaningless as their biology differs so widely from that of humans. She points out that the cruelty-free label has a significant following in our country. “We have loyal customers from The Vegan Society that recommends our products in their social groups and networks. A lot of customers appreciate the fact that no honey, eggs, milk, beeswax, lanolin or musk is used in any of our formulations”, says Shah.
Chennai-based animal rescuer Anuradha Chawla is one such customer, and is part of a fast-growing group of people who are conscious of a company’s value system. “Don’t buy products blindly,” she says, recalling her days of blissful ignorance. Chawla went vegan five years ago, and happened to come across shocking articles on testing while researching her new lifestyle. Ever since, she has sought out products that are strictly cruelty-free, and goes the extra mile by looking up company policies online or referring to the PETA lists of companies that do or don’t test on animals. She adds that companies that conduct “toxicity tests” are generally those that contain a large number of chemical ingredients that are damaging to human health as well. Chawla observes that there are far more organic and cruelty-free brands to choose from these days, and is optimistic that the trend will continue.
Sengupta and Jayasimha of HSI ask customers to look for the Leaping Bunny symbol on products, that guarantees the buyer that the company doesn’t test either the finished product or ingredients on animals. When in doubt, they advise putting the product back on the shelf and then emailing the company to ask if they conduct or commission animal tests.
The emails that pour into companies’ mailboxes are likely to be a signal to manufacturers (both in India and elsewhere) that customers have evolved. They care more about labels today than ever before — except that they’re not necessarily looking towards brands that have a carefully orchestrated “coolness” quotient or those that are priced exorbitantly enough to merit snob value. They merely want to make sure that their money isn’t contributing to more violence in the world. Thanks to the internet and the relentless campaigning of animal NGOs, it’s now easier than ever to uncover skeletons in a company’s closet — and avoid those that employ sweatshops, torture animals or poison rivers. The new cool is cruelty-free, fair trade, eco-friendly.
And thanks to the Indian government’s landmark ruling, we’re one step closer to all-inclusive ahimsa.
What does being a cruelty-free company mean?
1.Doesn’t test ingredients or the finished product on animals
2. Doesn’t hire a third party to conduct these tests on their behalf, or purchase from suppliers who test on animals
3. Doesn’t sell in regions like China where animal testing is mandatory
Resources for customers
The Leaping Bunny www.leapingbunny.org, also available as an Android / iPhone app: contains a cruelty-free downloadable shopping guide that lists companies by product type. Offers a free pocket-sized Compassionate Shopping Guide
The PETA “Beauty Without Bunnies” list www.caringconsumer.com contains comprehensive downloadable lists (that can be sorted by product type, or alphabetically) of companies that are kind to animals and those that aren’t
Give this number a missed call to register your support for the Humane Society’s “Be Cruelty Free” campaign: 080-4931-1223