A sticker price on a lipstick tube or a jar of wrinkle cream encapsulates a lot: the expenses of research and development, production, staffing, marketing, and more. But it ignores one non-pecuniary outlay: the cost of animal cruelty. This month, however, the European Union took a decisive and welcome step to circumvent that loophole, in the form of a comprehensive ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics. The United States should do the same.
The recent E.U. policy move culminates a concatenation of smaller actions, from a marketing ban in 1993 on animal-tested items, to a proscription on animal testing for finished products in 2004, to a 2009 ban with some exemptions. Thanks to those efforts, cosmetic animals tested in the E.U. dropped from over 5,000 in 2005, when it was rising, to fewer than 2,000 in 2010. The current law should bring that toll to zero. In an especially potent aspect of the prohibition, imported cosmetics are held to the same standard: Their safety must be certified through alternative means, not animal testing. With the E.U.’s cosmetic industry standing at €70 billion, or $91 billion, that component should help diffuse the E.U.’s shift to humane products beyond its borders.
A ban on animal testing for cosmetics comports with a basic sense of dignity. Victimized mice and rabbits may not be the loquacious fictions of Stuart Little or Watership Down, but they do feel pain. They do suffer. Wrinkle cream and lipstick are petty alibis for assigning them torment or death. And besides, the animals’ necessity for testing has waned. While the E.U. made its decision cognizant that full alternatives to animal testing are still yet to be realized (the ban grandfathers in current products), significant strides have been made. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lists over a thousand companies in industries with animal testing that bring their products safely to market sans animal cruelty.
Regrettably, PETA’s “Do Test” list, while shorter than its opposite, is not short enough. That illustrates the impotence of raw consumer pressure in eliminating animal-tested products, and the strength of corporate opacity in sustaining them. For companies, animal testing remains the easy path. That means government action is a needed remedy. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises “cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective,” and that includes animal testing. While less draconian policy than the Chinese government’s policy, which mandates animal testing, the FDA’s sin of omission is little better. Instead, the U.S. should follow the likes of the E.U. and Israel, which implemented a ban earlier this year, in prohibiting animal testing for cosmetics. That would bring the U.S. cosmetic market to bear, alongside the E.U.’s, as a global influence against animal testing. It would also affirm a belief that we can elevate the caliber of our own humanity through virtue toward those who do not share it.