The big problem with the California bill that bans cosmetic animal testing

Will animal testing for cosmetics become a thing of the past in California? (Photo: Getty Images)

California is one step closer to becoming the first state to ban cosmetic animal testing.

After a unanimous vote on Aug. 31, the state passed a bill that would ban animal testing for all cosmetic products sold in California. The bill, known as SB 1249, was introduced earlier this year by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani. If signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and could pave the way for other states to do the same.

This marks a major victory for proponents of cruelty-free beauty, but there’s also a lot of opposition — and it points back to China.

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, and other animals, are killed to assess the safety of cosmetics,” Elizabeth Baker, regulatory policy director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), tells Yahoo Lifestyle. The Physicians Committee and Social Compassion in Legislation co-sponsored the bill, which Baker says “outlaws the sale of cosmetics in their final form — and their ingredients — if they have been tested on animals after Jan. 1, 2020, except for certain exemptions.” Those exemptions include brands with products that are required to undergo animal testing to enter foreign markets, with China being the main one.

Baker says that the original legislation addressed testing required by other countries, but the provision gave rise to a lot of opposition. “The opposition to the bill kept saying, ‘What about China?’” says Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation. Many brands, found everywhere from drugstores to department stores, sell in China and are tested on animals. According to Mancuso, Johnson & Johnson, Estée Lauder, and Procter & Gamble were a few companies that showed up at some of the hearings, opposing the bill, but the “Personal Care Products Council is the organization who led the opposition.”

When we reached out to the Products Council about the bill, Lezlee Westine, president and CEO, sent Yahoo Lifestyle this statement via e-mail, denying these claims. “Our member companies have long supported measures to make animal testing obsolete, and we very much appreciate the hard work of Senator Galgiani and our coalition to find a positive path forward. SB 1249 is good for California consumers, businesses, jobs and animal welfare. We remain committed to finding and advocating for acceptance of alternatives to animal testing in the U.S. and abroad,” reads the statement.

Similarly, a Proctor & Gamble spokesperson sent a message via e-mail that read, “P&G has been working for many years to make animal testing obsolete in the beauty industry, and we support the California Cruelty-Free Act. Over the years we have taken a number of steps to eliminate animal testing and have invested more than $410 million in developing alternative, non-animal testing methods and then getting them accepted by regulators around the world.  We invite you to learn more about our efforts at [PG.com]”

So why is China such a big deal in cosmetic animal testing? “If you are a company who manufactures a cosmetic outside of China but you want to sell it in China, then animal testing is required,” Baker says. There are, however, ways for brands to get access to China without conducting animal testing, and two major beauty brands have spoken up about their practice. Canada-based Lush North America is one of them. The company has been against animal testing since its inception in 1996 and has over 900 locations worldwide, including storefronts in Hong Kong.

According to Hilary Pickles, charitable giving communications liaison at Lush, Hong Kong has a set of regulations different from those for the rest of China, and Hong Kong does not require animal testing. “What was missing in the room at the legislature was a large enough business that could say, ‘Hey we are successful, and we don’t test on animals, and we run a cosmetics company — here’s how we do it,’” which is exactly what Pickles did.  

Baker adds that California-based John Paul Mitchell Systems also sells in China while getting around the animal testing mandate. “[John Paul Mitchell Systems] was able to use a nonanimal test that satisfied Chinese regulators,” she says of the 38-year-old brand. “China is changing, but unfortunately it’s not there yet and it was a significant sticking point that caused a lot of opposition.”

Despite their efforts to prove cosmetic companies can be successful in China without doing animal testing, Baker says, “We removed [the provision] from the bill so that we could get a bill forward that still saved animals and meets the initial goals of the legislation while removing some of the opposition,” says Baker. “This bill really does set the standard for cruelty-free cosmetics and prevents new animal testing for final products and ingredients.”

However, Baker says the bill is a huge step forward in the right direction and is hopeful that it will push companies to do away with animal testing altogether. “Even where the bill allows for exceptions, such as animal testing that was conducted to comply with a federal, state, or foreign regulatory requirement, it specifically states that the company cannot rely upon that information when assessing the safety of the cosmetic.”

This means that even though a company may continue to test on animals, it must also use alternative methods to prove the safety of new cosmetics and their ingredients if they will be sold in California. “That is so important because it means companies will start using nonanimal methods of testing where they haven’t before.”

The Physicians Committee will also continue to pursue the goals of the original legislation through other routes, according to Baker. “We’ve been around since 1985 and have provided training to regulators on nonanimal methods, and providing this type of training is really important for getting regulators to accept nonanimal methods. So we are planning to increase our efforts with foreign regulators to address the issue that way.”

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