What do India and Israel have in common?
They are the only two countries that ban using animals to test both cosmetics and household products. The European Union has made it illegal to sell cosmetics that were tested on animals, but has no similar restrictions on testing household products. The United States doesn’t limit the testing of either kind of product, though some individual states do. The U.S. also doesn’t require animal tests for cosmetics, but sadly, that may change. There is a bill before Congress that would require every ingredient in cosmetics to undergo toxicity testing. The Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act, H.R. 1385, was introduced by Rep. Janice Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, last March. It was referred to committee last July and hasn’t been heard from since, so hopefully it is headed for oblivion.
India joined the exclusive no-testing club recently. Just last year it banned testing cosmetics on animals, as Alicia Graef reported on Care2. Now India has announced that it will no longer allow labs to rub harsh chemicals into guinea pigs’ bare, shaved skin. They also can’t use the infamous Draize test, which involves dousing restrained animals’ eyes with painful brews and then, after as long as three weeks, observing how much of their eyes have been destroyed.
Instead, to test the safety of dish detergents and air fresheners, Indian companies will use alternative, non-animal testing methods, then at the very end conduct spot testing on humans. Given that the question they want to answer is whether the chemicals will hurt people, testing on them makes a lot of sense.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims a lot of the credit for the change in India’s law. It reports that the Bureau of Indian Standards, which made the decision, has only one animal-protection representative on its committee on household products: Dr. Chaitanya Koduri, PETA India’s science policy adviser.
Ending cosmetics testing on animals has been more popular lately than changing methods for household products. The European Union has banned using animals to test cosmetics and their ingredients. Individual companies have unilaterally announced that they will not test their products on animals, including Shiseido, The Body Shop and Lush. This move is all up-side: they get points from humane consumers, and they don’t sacrifice safety because non-animal tests can be more reliable than vivisection is. Non-animal models can replicate human bodily systems better than, say, rats can.
Vicki Katrinak, Policy Analyst at the American Anti-Vivisection Society, thinks there are several reasons that there are more restrictions on cosmetics testing than on testing household products on animals. First, the ingredients in household products are “generally more caustic, they are more likely to cause problems when you get them on your skin [or] you inhale them,” she says. That means the public is less willing to forego animal tests on these products than they are on cosmetics, which tend to be less dangerous to consumers.
Second, Katrinak notes that there isn’t a perfect non-animal replacement test for every procedure that is used on animals, and the gaps are more likely to be in the tests used for household products. When the European Union and others stopped testing cosmetics on animals, researchers went hunting for alternative tests that could replace vivisection, and they came up with a lot — but they were geared towards investigating the ingredients used in cosmetics. Because it remained legal to test household products on animals, there wasn’t the same demand for scientists to find new, humane ways to do it.
Third, Katrinak says that environmental protection organizations are concerned that household products often wind up going down the drain into the water supply, adding one more reason to make sure they are safe before selling them.
I too prefer non-toxic water, but it doesn’t make sense that hurting and killing non-human animals is the only way to find out whether a chemical will hurt human animals. Our water would be safer if we created incentives for researchers to develop superior non-animal tests for these substances. Hopefully India’s new law will prove to be that kind of incentive.
Photo credit: mira33