Friday, 2 November 2012

Animal testing - major company eats its words

Just recently I stumbled across a story about Avon (the cosmetics company, not the river). I have used Avon products in the past and I know several people who use them now. I had been happy to use them because according to their website and various other sources, their products were not tested on animals.

Their website had stated ‘In 1989, Avon was the first major beauty company to stop testing products and ingredients on animals. Avon does not test products or ingredients on animals, nor do we request others do so on our behalf.’

However, at the same time, its global corporate website contradicted this. It clearly stated that of the circa 9,000 different products it sells in over 100 countries, in 2011, under 0.3 per cent of these were tested on animals.

0.3 per cent of 9000 products - just under 27 products. That may not sound like a lot but the number of animal tests that could have been involved in the development and manufacture of those 27 products could be well into the thousands. 

Each product or ingredient has to be tested for about 15 toxins, and one single test can involve killing around 1,000 animals. So that's potentially 15,000 animals per test. Even if it were only that figure per product (as opposed to per ingredient) that could be 405,000 animals. If you take it as 15,000 animals killed per individual ingredient, the number is too big to contemplate. 

Avon's global website stated that animal testing is only done ‘when required by law’ and that its goal is to get the number to zero. Avon have said that no products sold in the UK have been tested on animals but admitted that some non-EU countries may insist on carrying out their own "safety" testing. It also states ‘The only reason a product is tested on animals is because some governments have yet to accept the use of scientifically valid alternative approaches to safety assessment.’

I took this from Avon's website today: "Some select products may be required by law in a few countries to undergo additional safety testing, which potentially includes animal testing, under the directive of a government or health agency. In these instances, Avon will first attempt to persuade the requesting authority to accept non-animal test data. When those attempts are unsuccessful, Avon must abide by local laws and submit the products for additional testing. In 2011, this affected three tenths of one percent of Avon's products."

405,000 animals killed just so that a company can sell 27 products of its 9000-strong range. Why? Why not ditch those products? Or why not refuse to sell at all in countries where they carry out animal testing themselves on the products? Or refuse to sell to countries where cosmetics cannot go on public sale unless they have been tested on animals at some stage? Why? Simple. Money. For example, the cosmetics market in China is worth £10,000,000,000,000 (yup, £10 billion) and the Chinese government insists that any cosmetic product sold in China must have been tested on animals before they will licence its sale.
I disagree entirely with their statement "When those attempts [to persuade the requesting authority to accept non-animal test data] fail, Avon must abide by local laws and submit the products for additional testing". Simply not true. They have another option - they could simply choose not to sell those particular products in that country. No-one is forcing them to sell there.

Over the summer, several companies were told to remove the Cruelty Free International "Leaping Bunny" logo from their products after they chose to return to animal testing in order to sell to China. You can read The Independent's story on this here.

The argument put forward by some companies has been that  it would be unfair to deny the citizens of some countries access to their products just because that country's government insists on animal testing. They also say that they are better placed to "fight the system" from within. 

In my opinion, that's nonsense. If enough people in one country wanted to buy a particular product but were prevented from doing so because the company involved flatly refused to test on animals and the government insisted on those tests having been carried out, it would have far more effect if the citizens started to hassle the government about the issue. Instead of withholding their products and perhaps helping people to petition the government to lift those rules, the companies find it easier and simpler to agree to carry out animal testing on the products that are going to be sold in those countries. What a cop-out. So much for principles.

So take a good look at what's on your dressing table and in your bathroom cabinet. Whilst you might be sure that the products haven't physically been animal-tested in the UK, are you sure that the company that makes them isn't conducting or agreeing to external animal tests in other countries? Is that pot of lotion or that mascara worth the lives of over 400,000 animals? Is it worth the life of even one animal? Do as much research as you can if you're determined to be as cruelty-free as possible.

You might be surprised to learn that on the Go Cruelty Free website, there are only 100 cosmetics companies certified cruelty-free, and only 18 household product manufacturers. Given the number of companies in existence in both those categories, those are shockingly low figures.

The following website may well help you:

Friday, 19 October 2012

On your face = in your body

When you pick up a face cream or a cleanser, do you read the ingredients? Do you consider whether or not it is vegetarian, animal-tested, chemical-free, ethically made? No? You're not alone. Many people who take great care of such things in the rest of their life - eating healthily, avoiding household products which have been tested on animals etc - seem to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to toiletries. 

The problem seems to be that many people forget that something that when they apply something to the skin, it doesn't just stay on the outside. It soaks in. It's absorbed. It goes into your body. The body which, under any other circumstances, most people would protect from unpleasant chemicals.

The list of ingredients in a moisturiser, for example, can be long and baffling! Some sound natural but are pretty hideous chemicals, and some sound like they should be appallingly bad for you but are in fact perfectly natural. 

It seems that the industry has realised that many people (women, mainly) suddenly seem to forget their principles when faced with a shiny, Photoshopped celebrity telling them that this expensive pot of cream will allegedly magically make them look ten years younger, or even like that celebrity. 

If you go to a big chemists or to a department store, you'll be faced with every brand under the sun and it'll be up to you to sort the wheat from the chaff. The big conglomerates spend a lot of money on glossy publicity stands and on even glossier sales assistants. When you enter those places, you are one thing - a money pit! Do the sales assistants and make-over girls ever ask you if you're vegetarian, vegan, allergic to anything? Not in my experience, no. They might just ask you what you think your skin type is and before you know it, you're being slathered in creams and offered a make-up "lesson". Are they doing this for fun? To give you a nice treat during a hard day's shopping? No. They're doing it so that you'll buy the products and that you'll be so distracted by your new look and the incredible claims they make that you won't even notice the price. There is one cream on the market at the moment costing $295US for 1.7 fluid ounces! The website uses the phrases "anti-ageing", "age-defying", "effective against the signs of ageing". I can't be the only person who thinks that being "anti-ageing" has to be one of the most futile stands a person can take. We are ALL getting older, every single minute of every single day. 

Are we really prepared to fork out so much of our hard-earned cash to companies who are simply preying on our apparent hatred of the progress of nature? 

Consider instead the smaller, independent, ethical companies who actually care about their customers, their product, their suppliers, their packaging, the environment. Some of these companies started as (or still are) just one person in their kitchen, mixing up different natural ingredients in an attempt to treat their skin to a bit of TLC but without harming anything in the process. I am not going to pretend that those companies don't want to make a profit - of course they do. No-one goes into business planning to make a loss but many of them are very happy to make a tiny profit compared to that of the bigger companies. They might sell only in their local area, or only at weekend markets. Some get bigger. Some don't. When a company does start to grow and become more nationally recognised, there is a lot of pressure on them to change their practices, start looking for cheaper ingredients, different packaging, in order to maximise their profits. It's a brave company director or business person who can stick to their principles and insist that everything continue to be done their way. It's difficult for such companies to get investment because investors tend to look solely at projected profit margins. 

My favourite ranges? Pukka, Weleda, Faith in Nature, I Am Natural, Barefoot SOS. I also hear great things about Dr Hauschka (not just organic but also bio-dynamic) though I've never tried them.

So how do you find a product that fits with your own ethos? One which not only won't do you any harm but also caused no harm in its production? One way is to avoid those huge stores and seek out your local independent health food shop. The owners of these stores generally make a point of only stocking products which fit with a more ethical standpoint. If you don't want to go in person or you already know what you want, then an online store such as The Natural Products Company can be very convenient. The best thing about sites like that is that the hard work has been done for you - nothing has been tested on animals and you can filter your search by vegetarian, vegan, organic and even gluten-free. 

So have a really good look at your creams and potions. If they don't come up to scratch, treat yourself to something new that will benefit both you and the planet.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Is it really so difficult?

I frequently hear "It must be so difficult being vegetarian" or "Why do you make life so hard for yourself?" These are, of course, from omnivores. I can see, I suppose, why it would seem that way but those people don't look at the situation from the same point of view as I (and other veggies) do. 

I can't speak for other vegetarians but it makes no difference to me how difficult it is to be veggie. It's something I believe in on purely ethical grounds. I don't really see what difference it makes how difficult or otherwise it is - a few issues with eating out or five extra minutes reading some ingredients on packaging are surely worth it for the knowledge that I have, in a way, saved an animal from an untimely death. 

The simple truth is that if you genuinely believe that something is right, you will be prepared to make the effort to do it. If you're not that committed to it or don't understand it, then you're not going to make the effort. 

The older I get, the more committed to vegetarianism I become. I know some people move in the opposite direction. Whether that's simply because they get fed up with the effort it does take, or if they truly believe that standards have changed sufficiently for them to start eating meat again, it's a lifestyle change I can't really get my head around. The longer I'm veggie, the more veggie I become! 

With this blog, I'm hoping to delve deeper into all kinds of issues surrounding vegetarianism, veganism, general ethical living, the rising interest in cruelty-free cosmetics and toiletries, and animal welfare standards and I have a feeling that, in the process, I might learn more about people's choices, including my own.