My mother and I were walking down New Bond Street one day, and we spotted a large, elaborately decorated MAC store. Her eyes lit up and she expressed interest in taking a peek. While I was fine with tagging along, I expressed my distaste for the brand by telling her, “They test on animals.”
Her smile faded away and she replied with “Really? Oh.”
Luckily for me, she took my assertion seriously and didn’t argue. She didn’t try to convince me that being angry about animal testing is trivial. Yet seeing big brands such as Dove or L’Oreal pretending to be cruelty-free but still managing to profit off of consumers who don’t seem to care either way is infuriating. Masquerading as a cruelty-free brand should be recognized as a cardinal sin.
Yet before I address why, I will clear up possible concerns or questions that might arise when addressing this issue:
Cruelty-Free? Don’t you mean vegan?
While these terms may seem interchangeable, they are not. In this context, “vegan” means that no animal ingredients or animal-derived ingredients such as beeswax, gelatin, collagen, and others, are present in the product. On the other hand, cruelty-free products were never tested on animals at any point in their production. In other words, products can be cruelty-free but not vegan, and vice versa.
So what does “cruelty-free” mean exactly?
Unfortunately, the term “cruelty-free” is not a regulated one, which can introduce a Pandora’s Box of inconsistencies. What do companies mean when they use that term? That they haven’t tested any ingredients on animals? Or haven’t tested their finished products on them?
Nevertheless, there are a few helpful visual signs that can help us be on the look-out for cruelty-free brands. However, different organizations have different criteria on what passes as a “cruelty-free” brand. According to Suzana Rose, a cruelty-free blogger, the Leaping Bunny has the most stringent criteria.
1. Humans and animals such as rodents, cats, or dogs, react differently to drugs.
Many people may be thinking: “But we can’t just boycott brands because of animal testing! If it weren’t for animal testing, we wouldn’t have antibiotics or other scientific breakthroughs!”
While this may be true for a select few cases, such as creating antivenom, we have to understand that humans have different chemical reactions to animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, or dogs.
In fact, Richard Harris from NPR confirms that most drugs that are tested on lab rats fail on people. Why? Because all animals (including humans) have evolved differently over millions of years. Therefore, expecting rodents to react to a drug in the same way a human would is not only simplistic but also myopic. There is no scientific basis for animal testing.
Testing leads to lots of money going down the drain where it could be better spent elsewhere.
2. Animal testing violates animals and their rights to consent.
We believe that we are entitled to treat animals as a means to an end. We communicate in different ways to how other animals communicate and forget that there are non-verbal ways of communicating consent.
Dr. Hope Ferdowsian states that we often deprive animals of making informed decisions about their lives even though they are capable of doing so. Moreover, she states that when animals do express assent and dissent, we rarely respect their personal agency in ways that acknowledge their aptitude for making choices. This means that we need to shift our thinking about animals. Dr. Joseph Garner also makes a valid point: “instead of treating mice and other animals as furry test tubes, scientists should start treating animals as ‘patients.'”
3. Feminism is about challenging the oppressive status quo.
Are we responsible for animal testing? Partially. We need to realize that animal testing is a lot crueler and more wasteful than we think. The UK Home Office reveals that 5.53 million animals were used for animal testing in 2017.
The actions involved in investigating genetic make-up include making holes in mice’s ears or removing “very young animals'” toes.
As we protest cruelty against women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and other oppressed groups, we should do what we can to protest against animal cruelty, whether through signing petitions, educating ourselves, or getting involved in a campaign.
We need to hold ourselves accountable so we can grow and be better. Since we are partially to blame for the problem, we can also be part of the solution. Being aware of animal cruelty in animal testing is an important first step to normalizing kindness toward animals.