WASHINGTON — Cosmetics executives are breathing easier these days as the spotlight on animal rights has turned from laboratory testing to fur.
But activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say the lull is only temporary. Winter is the peak time for fur protests, they noted, citing the recent occupations of the New York headquarters of Vogue magazine and Calvin Klein.
And more significantly, PETA is locked in quiet negotiations with a number of companies that may be rethinking their testing policies since Paris-based cosmetics giant L’OrÄal agreed to an animal test ban in October.
“We’re using the victory of L’Oreal to pressure the other companies who still do animal testing to stop,” said Dan Mathews, PETA’s director of international campaigns. “Companies have open ears now, I think.”
Mathews would not identify any of the wavering companies, saying, “It wouldn’t be fair.”
Just as PETA refuses to let up the pressure, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, which has fought the animal rights activists every step of the way, is keeping up the counteroffensive.
The industry group plans to continue challenging PETA’s test-ban drive on the legislative front, said Michael Petrina, vice president for legislative relations. “The important thing is, if any single state were to pass a bill, it would set a very bad precedent for other states.”
After years of conflict, the battle lines remain in place. Petrina noted that there is little point in talk at this stage. CTFA does not plan to meet with PETA members or otherwise try to resolve differences, he said, adding,”I’m not sure there’s anything we can say that would change their minds.”
L’Oreal is the latest of five well-known major companies to abandon animal testing. The others are Avon, Revlon, Benetton and EstÄe Lauder, according to Debbi Liebergot, international campaigns coordinator.
Lauder was never targeted specifically with a PETA campaign, but the company scrapped animal testing. Benetton sees its decision to stop animal testing as a “partnership” in support of PETA and a commitment to setting more compassionate test standards.
L’Oreal abandoned animal testing after four years of letter-writing, demonstrations and advertisements aimed at the company.
Mathews said PETA receives letters every week from companies affirming that they do not sell products tested on animals and never will. These companies are added to a list of more than 500 that PETA publicizes in its annual “Shopping Guide for Caring Consumers,” a 118-page volume that includes ads and coupons for “cruelty-free” products.
And for those companies that refuse to give in? “We have a lot of surprises up our sleeve,” Mathews said.
With L’Oreal out of the way, Boston-based Gillette Co. moves to the top of PETA’s hit list. The group, in fact, is printing up reams of campaign literature focusing on Gillette, which will replace the obsolete anti-L’Oreal brochures, Liebergot said. Gillette, a PETA target for about seven years, has no intention of giving in, a company spokeswoman said. Despite letter-writing campaigns, staged dumpings of Gillette products and three attempts to introduce anti-animal testing shareholder resolutions, “the position has not changed, which is we do what we are obliged to do morally and legally,” she said.
Gillette only conducts animal testing that is necessary to assure that products are safe for consumers, she added.
“Everybody in this industry is working to eliminate testing on laboratory animals, but there’s no federal agency that will let us do that,” the Gillette spokeswoman said.
Even agencies that do not specifically require animal testing mandate that adequate testing be done, and sometimes it is necessary to use laboratory animals to meet this standard, she said.
The Gillette spokeswoman also noted that her company markets a very broad range of products, from cosmetics to antiperspirant to liquid paper, so it is more difficult for Gillette to avoid animal testing than for most other companies.
PETA’s Liebergot countered, “There’s no reason to torture another animal for some new shade of lipstick.”
PETA’s clout, or at least its visibility, appears to be growing. The organization, which recently opened offices in England and Germany, claims 400,000 members.
In addition, animal-rights activists in countries from South Africa to France have requested PETA’s assistance in launching movements in their respective locales, Liebergot said.
The organization also is getting attention from outspoken, high-profile members such as singers k.d. lang and Paul McCartney, and actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger (whose sultry countenance graces the cover of the 1994 shopping guide).
Four top fashion models, including Naomi Campbell, staged a photo opportunity in early January in Paris wearing only a PETA banner stating “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.”
In December, nude activists decked in a similar banner blocked traffic during rush hour on a Washington, D.C., bridge.
When it comes to a company’s bottom line, however, PETA’s impact is less obvious. Gillette, for example, recently announced a 25 percent quarterly earnings increase, and the company’s sales have risen steadily throughout the PETA campaign, the spokeswoman said.
Animal-rights activists also are failing to make even a ripple in Congress this session. The Doris Day Animal League, the movement’s lobbying arm, has failed to get a sponsor for its Consumer Product Safe Testing Act, which has been introduced to no avail for the previous six years.
The bill would require all federal agencies to evaluate their regulations and “switch to non-animal methods if they can’t justify testing on animals, which they can’t,” said Holly Hazard, the Doris Day group’s legislative director.
Hazard said finding a sponsor has been difficult because Democrats are preoccupied with health care, welfare reform and the other top issues of the day.
Still, one-quarter of the House of Representatives signed the bill in 1990, she noted.