Bunny-free beauty

Alokparna Sengupta of HSI with a rabbit. Photo: special arrangement  

This festive season brings good tidings for bunnies, beagles and more. In a ruling that comes into effect next month, India becomes the first country in South Asia to be designated a cruelty-free cosmetics zone. This means that in addition to our ban on animal tests for cosmetics, India will also no longer allow the import of personal care products that have been tested on animals.

For millions of animals — including dogs, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs — this means freedom from a life of confinement and suffering, in the name of testing shampoos, lipstick and soap. While some experiments involve dripping chemicals into a rabbit’s taped-open eyes, others mean rubbing chemicals onto their shaved skin, at the end of which the animals are killed by asphyxiation, neck breaking or decapitation. This landmark step will go a long way in preventing torture in the name of vanity.

“Cosmetic testing is a frivolous thing — thousands of animal lives are lost because of it,” says S Chinny Krishna, vice-chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India. “India is synonymous with ahimsa and respect for all living creatures. It is only fitting that we set the benchmark in this respect.”

The ruling follows persistent efforts by NGOs such as PETA and Humane Society International (India) who drive home the message that modern science offers better and more compassionate alternatives to animal testing, while pointing to the general unreliability of animal models on humans. Says Humane Society International’s Alokparna Sengupta, “Chemicals are essential to modern life, yet we are unsure of their safety. Animal tests are time-consuming, restrictive in the number of substances that can be tested, provide little understanding of how chemicals behave in the human body, and inflict suffering upon large numbers of animals. In addition, they often fail to correctly predict real-world human reactions.” She adds, “We’re elated and proud of India’s progressive step. We are only the third region in the world and second country in Asia to have this legislation.”

Also celebrating the ruling is PETA India’s science policy adviser Chaitanya Koduri. “We are very excited about the ban,” says Dr. Koduri. “As a toxicologist, I celebrate the growth of non-animal methods of testing. I think this will ensure a more multi-fold approach to testing which incorporates genetics, molecular biology and bio-statistics.” Some of the alternatives, according to the HSI website include non-animal tests such as skin tests that use human reconstructed skin, like EpiDerm and EPISKIN, the “3T3 NRU” test for sunlight-induced “phototoxicity,” the Bovine Cornea Opacity and Permeability test for eye corrosion. Consumers also see this as a welcome step. According to Raghav H.V. who has always shopped cruelty-free, “It’s a welcome ban. Humans are welcome to look as great as they want to, but not at the cost of innocent beings like rabbits, rats, hamsters, etc. which have never harmed anyone.” He feels that awareness of the issue is key to its successful implementation. “Most consumers are not even aware of the cruelty,” he says. “If they become aware of the cruelty, many of them might change, like I did.” Shilpi Shalini admits to being relieved about the ban, having watched a disturbing programme on animal testing on the Discovery network two years ago. “I love animals, but was forced to accept it as a necessary evil as I didn’t know that there were any other options available,” she says. “I’m glad animals no longer have to go through all these painful experiences.”

The cosmetic-testing ban is also a potential harbinger of similar changes in the pharmaceutical industry. “I think this will force other industries that use animal testing such as the drug and chemical industry to sit-up and take notice,” says Dr. Koduri.

For now, HSI is savouring the moment and the impact it will have on animals that will now be spared this trauma. Describing her meeting with a rabbit that was rescued from a laboratory, Alokparna reveals that it’s a process that requires patience but is highly rewarding. “They are extremely shy beings who only open up after a considerable amount of time is spent with you,” she says. “It was like being with a baby — trying to come up with things they might be interested in so they could open up to you!” For this rabbit and countless others, the recent ruling is a blessing that will prevent them from being sacrificed in the name of beauty.

Zoey finds her voice

Zoey greets passers-by on the street and insists on belly rubs from baffled first-time visitors to her home. She’s also the most popular choice for canine playdates in her locality. Her owner Ranjani Shanker jokingly refers to the beloved beagle as the world’s worst guard dog, for Zoey pounces on friends and strangers with uniform affection. Two years ago, Zoey was rescued just before she was transported into a research lab where she and 69 other beagle puppies were to spend years in solitary confinement and subjected to painful experiments. Following a tip-off that they were illegally transported, the 70 pups were rescued and successfully adopted by families in Chennai and Bangalore.

Though Zoey is now a confident, well-adjusted dog, Ranjani observes that she still bears the scars of her past. Though she occasionally emits little howls of excitement when playing with other dogs, Zoey cannot bark, as her vocal cords were severed (a practice by labs to silence their test subjects) and was tattooed under her ear by the lab for identification. “For the first two months, she wouldn’t move. I can’t tell you how scared those puppies were,” recalls Ranjani. “Even today, she’s scared of random things — like when we move a chair a little roughly.”

Says Ranjani who was delighted to hear that India is now the first cruelty-free cosmetics zone in South Asia — “Considering we lag behind in many ways, I’m so proud that India is leading the change.”

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 12:18:14 PM |

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