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back issues


August 2006
Myth: “Not Tested on Animals” Means Not Tested on Animals

Rouge Revolution—Leaping Bunny Approved
The Satya Interview with Michelle Thew


Are you a bunny lover? With good reason, many consumers see a bunny symbol or the phrase “not tested on animals” and believe they are purchasing cruelty-free products. The awful truth is, cosmetics companies can boast whatever they like, even emblazon products with a cute bunny logo, but are not legally regulated to ensure the accuracy of their testing claims. The reality is that source ingredients are routinely—and unnecessarily—tested on mice, rats and bunnies. In 2004, Michelle Thew became Chief Executive Officer of the Animal Protection Institute (API) and is working to expose such deception and end animal testing in the cosmetics industry.

Under Thew’s leadership API has become headquarters for the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC)—the Leaping Bunny program. The Leaping Bunny uses stringent criteria to validate a company’s animal testing policy. Certified products that sport the leaping bunny image have committed to end animal testing throughout the manufacturing process, which includes all source ingredients, as well as finished products.

A respected activist in the animal protection movement, Thew came from the UK where she spent many years as the CEO of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV)—a leading organization working to end animal research and testing. Since arriving at API, Michelle has sustained as well as pushed forth API’s campaigns. Bringing her knowledge of vivisection and animal testing to API, the organization recently launched their Compassionate Consumer campaign, a national initiative to end animal testing in the cosmetics industry. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to ask Michelle Thew all about the importance of ingredient testing, deceptive labels and deciphering the many bunny icons.

As CEO for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, why the move to the Animal Protection Institute?
BUAV achieved a great deal for laboratory animals, and I was proud to be part of their victories, such as the EU-wide cosmetics testing ban—it’s a great organization. I had, however, always viewed the issue of animal testing in an international context and wanted the opportunity to work as part of the U.S. movement. It is clear to me that meaningful change for animals will only come about when we all work together, and taking steps forward in the U.S. is hugely important in our global effort.

I had worked with API on joint projects when I was at BUAV and respected the organization. So when the opportunity arose to take on the challenge of being their CEO, it was the right thing to do. It’s a perfect fit!

In terms of vivisection, can you talk about differences between the U.S. animal rights movement and the UK movement?
I think there has been a view prevalent in the U.S. that the UK might be a great place to be a laboratory animal, so I want to stress that millions of animals continue to suffer and die in UK laboratories. There have been some victories but the fight still continues. Having said that, there are some differences in the social and political climate. The British public has traditionally been against animal cruelty. Public opinion surveys have shown that they are against conducting painful procedures on animals and the British government has responded by taking steps to end cosmetics testing, the use of great apes in research, and the use of animals for testing tobacco and alcohol products. These have been important victories for animals that we are yet to see repeated here in the U.S.

The UK movement has also been a recognized voice in political decision-making. On animal testing, the U.S. movement has yet to achieve this within the political arena and, unfortunately, public awareness and sympathy on these issues lags behind Europe. UK media also takes the debate on these issues seriously, making a huge difference in how they are viewed.

The UK and U.S. movements can learn a lot from each other but I am convinced that unity and determined focus to see the battle through til the end was what made the real difference.

Can you tell us about the Compassionate Consumer campaign?
It is an extremely exciting campaign, and one that responds to a real need here in the U.S. Our new Kiss Cosmetics Testing Goodbye! campaign is designed to help educate and empower consumers across the nation to make informed purchases that will directly change the lives of countless animals in testing laboratories. We also offer consumers tools to find products free of animal testing such as our Compassionate Shopping Guide listing Leaping Bunny approved companies, postcards to send to companies you would like to see verified with the Leaping Bunny, as well as a useful Decoder for Reading Cosmetics Labels and Claims, which outlines many common claims and unpacks the hidden meaning behind them.

Vivisection is one of those issues a lot of animal rights activists believe was conquered years ago. Why do you think this myth is so prevalent?
A number of high profile cosmetics companies have made public claims that they have ended animal testing when this may just refer to finished product testing. This confuses the consumer and gives the impression that animal testing for cosmetics is a thing of the past. Misinformation about ‘necessary’ testing for cosmetics products, coupled with deceptive package labels, has contributed to the false belief that animals are no longer suffering for beauty.

Many conscientious consumers believe that by buying products claiming “no animal testing” they are supporting companies that have ended using animals.

I don’t understand how a company’s label can say “not tested on animals” if it isn’t true.
Basically, there are no regulations covering the labeling claims for “cruelty-free” products. So, companies take liberties with their language. This includes manipulating consumers with false claims. Furthermore, there are no repercussions for companies that make these deceptive claims. In some cases, they are being truthful in the ‘literal sense.’ The company itself may very well not test; it may not even commission testing on its behalf. However, testing may occur by its ingredient suppliers, and a company may purchase ingredients with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ philosophy.

No regulations? Okay, that scares me. So a company may not test their product on animals, but the ingredients they buy and use to make their product might be?
Yes, and the cosmetics industry wishes consumers would remain complacent and in the dark about it. Most commonly, individual ingredients are combined into what is referred to as a final product—the actual finished product that is bottled and packaged on shelves. Animal testing on this final product is virtually obsolete.

However, ingredient level testing is where the majority of animal testing still occurs. A ‘no animal testing’ claim may only refer to the final product, while the ingredients used in that product were actually tested on animals. Similarly, a company may say they do not test their products on animals because they have no knowledge of the animal testing practices of companies they purchase their ingredients from.

Time and time again, as we work with companies seeking to end all animal testing in their manufacturing process, they are surprised to learn about this. This is a crucial point and once understood, will save countless animals.

But what about products that only have vegan ingredients?
A “vegan” product that contains no animal byproducts or animal-derived ingredients still does not speak to a company’s animal testing practices. While many companies that adopt a no animal testing policy do produce vegan products, the two claims need to be assessed separately. Similarly, because a product is ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ does not mean it was not tested on animals. Laws require that ingredients be listed. But it becomes the consumer’s—admittedly daunting—task to read that list and identify what’s unacceptable.

I see all different types of bunnies and symbols on packages. What’s up with that?
Well, considering public opposition to animal testing for cosmetics, it is hardly surprising that companies still involved in this cruel practice are reluctant to provide clear and straightforward information. Many times a simple environmentally responsible or animal-affiliated icon acts as a marketing tool to suggest a company engages in responsible, compassionate practices. They want to encourage concerned consumers to feel comfortable with their purchase. But it is important to investigate the icon and find out exactly what it means. While many companies continue to use bunnies, crossed-out bunnies, or similar icons to imply they have a policy on animal testing, the mere appearance of a rabbit on a bottle offers little assurance of a company’s actual policies or practices, unless of course it’s the Leaping Bunny.

Is there a difference between Leaping Bunny approved companies and other lists I have seen, like PETA’s?
The various lists and different “cruelty-free” criteria promoted by different organizations can complicate the already-confusing issue of animal testing. This belief goes to the very heart of why in 1996, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC)—the Leaping Bunny program—was formed by the nation’s largest animal protection groups. It was designed to promote one agreed upon standard and logo across the world for all cosmetics and household products. PETA actually joined the CCIC in 1996, and at that time agreed to adopt CCIC’s more stringent standard, which required a company to ban finished product testing, as well as ingredient testing on animals. CCIC encouraged PETA to work with non-Leaping Bunny companies to help them agree to a fixed cut-off date for animal testing and to obtain verifiable assurances from ingredient providers.

However, PETA decided to continue to list both those companies that are Leaping Bunny approved and companies that do not meet our more stringent standard. They have also chosen to withdraw from the CCIC to run their own program.

Is it hard for companies to earn Leaping Bunny certification?
No. The Leaping Bunny program simply asks companies to confirm their animal testing policies and practice. The program also offers tools to create a system to ensure no animal tested products or ingredients make their way into their manufacturing. We find that many ethical companies have sophisticated ordering systems requiring suppliers to meet various standards—organic, vegan, environmentally responsible, etc. Animal testing standards have become one of the many expectations suppliers seek.

What are your thoughts and concerns about large corporations buying up historically cruelty-free companies?
The frequency of these acquisitions is affecting numerous industries, and the cosmetics industry is not immune. However, we must recognize the multinational nature of the cosmetics industry and the need for value-driven companies to expand and gain access to global markets. It is inevitable that small, innovative companies will continue to be targets for partnership with larger corporations. Compassionate consumers send a strong message to major corporations when they choose to buy cruelty-free products.

Can you comment on the two recent buy-ups with relation to animal testing: Tom’s of Maine and the Body Shop?
Both Tom’s of Maine and the Body Shop will maintain their product formulas, continue making products without animal testing and be managed as stand-alone subsidiaries. They will also remain certified by the Leaping Bunny program in their headquartered countries but will be noted as having a non-Leaping Bunny-approved parent company.

Both companies have made important strides for animals in the years leading up to their acquisition. The leadership of Tom’s of Maine in efforts to drive animal testing out of the cosmetics industry, particularly in challenging the FDA for their fluoride toothpastes, has been important in demonstrating the validity of in vitro testing methods and in saving countless animal lives. Similarly, the Body Shop has a history of active involvement with ending animal testing in the EU.

Both Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oreal have recognized, in their purchase of Tom’s of Maine and the Body Shop, the importance of the growing ethical consumer market and that the production of high quality cosmetic products need not involve animal suffering. We now look to both parent companies to learn from their newly acquired subsidiaries and urge them to end involvement with all animal testing across their product range.

Why do you think vegans should avoid companies like Aveda and Origins? What are some well-known companies you do recommend?
Again, a vegan product does not mean a product free of animal testing. Neither Aveda nor Origins have verified their animal testing policy with Leaping Bunny, so we have no way of knowing what animal testing has occurred for their products. Both companies are also subsidiaries of Estée Lauder who has yet to express an interest in verifying their policies on animal testing.

There are some fantastic Leaping Bunny approved companies such as Jason, Kiss My Face, Gabriel Cosmetics, ZuZu Luxe. Recently, I had the chance to meet with Urban Decay and Hard Candy to talk with them about their new website and new vegan icon “Marley Approved,” denoting products that contain no animal-derived ingredients. These Leaping Bunny companies have taken great strides to ensure an end to animal testing, and many are working towards vegan product lines.

Roughly how many animals in the U.S. are used for vivisection? What kinds of animals? And what percentages are used for cosmetics?
Every year, millions of animals suffer and die in the name of research, testing and education. Conservative estimates place animals used in research at well over 100 million. However, no one knows how many animals are used in the U.S. because the Animal Welfare Act, the legislation requiring the counting of animals in laboratories, excludes mice and rats, indisputably the most used animals in the industry. A staggering 100 million mice are estimated to be used in U.S. laboratories alone. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of animals used in laboratories are used to test chemicals and consumer products.

What can consumers do to help send a message to the cosmetics industry?
Help spread the word to others that labeling alone does not guarantee a product free of animal suffering. Use your consumer power and shop with compassion! Those purchases demonstrate a public commitment to animals and the desire to see an end to their suffering. As more companies and suppliers learn of this consumer demand, we will see measurable change in this industry. Also, as activists, you may encourage companies you would like to see verify their animal testing policy with the Leaping Bunny. Drop them a line, and encourage them to meet the international standard and become part of an important step in ending future animal testing for cosmetics.

One last thing, a very important topic, can you tell us Chloe’s story and how she has been an inspiration for you?
Chloe is my gorgeous little companion that I rescued from a laboratory in Asia following an investigation while working for the BUAV. We found her and a number of other dogs in appalling and terrifying conditions, and worked tirelessly to free her. After a campaign of many months and much negotiation, Chloe and all of the other dogs were freed and the laboratory agreed to take no more dogs into research.

All of the other dogs were re-homed but I fell in love with Chloe and she came to live with me in London! When the move to API was proposed, I needed to find a safe way for us to travel to the U.S. Not willing to consign her to the hold of an airplane as ‘cargo’, we sailed over in the doggy quarters of the QE2 to New York then drove together to California.

Chloe is a daily reminder to me of the horror of animal experimentation and the millions of animals, with feelings and personalities just like her, who suffer in laboratories today. She is an amazing, determined little girl who survived despite all the odds. On days when changing the world for animals seems overwhelming, I only have to look at her to be reminded of why we do this—and my determination is renewed.

To order a free copy of API’s Compassionate Shopping Guide listing companies approved by the Leaping Bunny or the Kiss! campaign postcards visit

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