AN UPHILL STRUGGLE CONTINUES FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
Byline: JOYCE BARRETT
WASHINGTON — Despite scores of successes in persuading cosmetics manufacturers to avoid safety tests on animals, industry critics still aren’t satisfied.
Procter & Gamble and The Gillette Co., which still conduct tests on animals, are being confronted with protests, letter campaigns, objections at shareholder meetings and grassroots grievances from the animal-rights groups People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and In Defense of Animals.
Meanwhile, their competitors’ names are circulated as “preferable alternatives” in shopping guides and are awarded for avoiding animal testing. Avon, for instance, was awarded by PETA for its animal-free policies, in place since 1989. Other manufacturers cited by PETA include Revlon, L’OrAal, EstAe Lauder, Chanel, Bonnie Bell and Almay.
Neither Procter & Gamble nor The Gillette Co. can point to profit erosion from the public criticism and, in fact, their earnings are increasing. But they can’t deny the pinch they’re in, their detractors claim.
The Boston-based Gillette has been boycotted by PETA for 10 years. Since the boycott began in 1986, Gillette has reduced the number of animals used in tests by more than half. Most of Gillette’s animal testing, a spokeswoman said, is for its biomedical products and is required by law. No animals are involved in tests for cosmetics products, the company said.
But that’s not good enough for PETA, said Amy Morgan, manager of the organization’s cruelty-free products campaign. Noting that some of the biggest cosmetics companies have changed their testing practices in response to PETA campaigns, Morgan said that when it comes to Gillette, “We want to be a thorn in their side.”
During the course of the Gillette campaign, PETA has advocated a boycott of Gillette’s “products of pain” in newspapers; persuaded at least one magazine, Vegetarian Times, to stop running paid ads by The Gillette Co.; mobilized letter-writing campaigns to Gillette in grade schools; persuaded schools not to invite Gillette representatives as guest speakers, and mounted campaigns against universities carrying Gillette products in campus stores.
Strategies used by critics for ending animal testing are changing as the corporate targets get bigger, Morgan said. “The age of big demonstrations is coming to a close,” she said. “In some situations, they may still be appropriate, but we’re dealing with multinational corporations that aren’t impressed by crowds of people in the street.” Evening tabloid talk shows are now considered effective carriers of PETA’s message, Morgan said. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian who formed In Defense of Animals 13 years ago in Mill Valley, Calif., acknowledged that his quest may be quixotic. “My goal is to have animals no longer needed in consumer tests,” he said. His organization has spent more than $1 million since 1989 on direct mail, literature and posters in its campaign to force Procter & Gamble to end its animal testing. Katz still finds public demonstrations effective and has organized demonstrations outside Procter & Gamble shareholder meetings. He has mounted a campaign to encourage consumers to mail Procter & Gamble coupons to his organization, which then pours red paint on them to symbolize blood and displays them during demonstrations. Activists at universities are asked to challenge the corporation when it recruits on campuses, and more than one million pieces of literature are mailed yearly.
“A great deal of testing could be eliminated,” Katz said. “But using animal tests allows companies to get on the market quicker than their competitors. That’s the bottom line.”
According to Dr. John E. Bailey, director of the FDA’s office of Cosmetics and Colors, the FDA has no premarket approval requirements for cosmetics and leaves it up to manufacturers to determine the safety of their products. The FDA does require animal safety data on new drugs and formulations. While animal testing is not required, the FDA and the science community in general maintain that animal testing should remain as an option for safety determination. Alternatives to animal testing, such as synthetic skin and in-vitro cells, are not yet a reliable substitute, Bailey said. Another point of contention that has arisen in the industry is labeling requirements. Labels claiming that products are “cruelty free” or have used no animal testing can be misleading, Bailey said, because those terms have not been defined under federal regulations and thus are open to company and consumer interpretation. The National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy group, released a study last November showing that shoppers are generally misled by the claims — because the claims don’t mean the products or ingredients were never tested on animals. “The truth is, most ingredients in use today have been tested on animals,” said League president Linda F. Golodner. In response to the survey, the FDA is considering how to regulate the claims, but Bailey acknowledges that with the antiregulatory fervor sweeping Capitol Hill, it could be difficult to address the labeling issue in the near future.
Gillette has seized on the League’s study and distributes it as part of its defense. “Companies that claim they conduct no animal testing either contract testing to an outside laboratory or use compounds known to be safe through previous animal testing,” Gillette said in an information sheet on animal testing. “Since these companies have not performed the actual testing themselves, they claim their product is cruelty free. Indeed, The Gillette Company markets many products that contain compounds known to be safe through previous animal tests. However, we choose not to use the misleading ‘cruelty free’ claim.”
A Procter & Gamble spokeswoman said the firm uses animals in safety tests to insure consumers are protected. “If there is no other safety method, animal testing is the only prudent thing to do,” the spokeswoman said.
Procter & Gamble has spent more than $30 million in the past decade to develop alternatives to animal testing, she said. “Animal testing is expensive and difficult to do, and we’re doing what we can.”
While Procter & Gamble has done no animal testing on products under the Noxell name, which it acquired in 1989, and for Max Factor, acquired in 1991, it does not make the claims that they are free of animal testing because at one time, the products or ingredients were tested on animals, the spokeswoman said.
While opposing state efforts to bar animal testing, the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association claims it has spent more than $110 million over the last 15 years on developing alternatives to animal testing. Some of that money has gone to the Center for Alternatives to Animal Tests at Johns Hopkins University. In England, a similar program has been created, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, along with a computerized system to evaluate formulations.