Canada makes new progress in banning animal-testing for cosmetics

Pamela Anderson, holding a picture of a rabbit allegedly used in a cosmetics toxicity test, April 25, 2008. (Getty)
Pamela Anderson, holding a picture of a rabbit allegedly used in a cosmetics toxicity test, April 25, 2008. (Getty)

June 18 marked a watershed moment in the fight to end cosmetic testing on animals in Canada. Just one week prior to the Senate’s summer recess, Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen introduced Bill S-234, the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, which will ban animal testing for cosmetics and prohibit the sale of cosmetic products or ingredients that have been animal tested in other parts of the world.

But, if you really haven't thought about cosmetic testing on animals since, well, the last time you thought about acid rain or The Body Shop’s Peppermint Foot Lotion — let's say the mid-90s — you're not alone.

"Most people don’t actually know that it still occurs and when we tell them we're working to ban it in Canada, the first thing out of their mouth is 'I thought they stopped 20 years ago’," says Aviva Vetter, the Program & Development Officer for Humane Society International.

This historic legislation resulted from a partnership between Senator Stewart Olsen, the Animal Alliance of Canada and Humane Society International. The #BeCrueltyFree campaign is the largest global movement ever working to bring worldwide change to this industry. Since 2012, their advocacy has resulted in bans across 30 countries including the EU, India and Israel. Countries like Canada, the United States, Australia and South Korea are steadily making progress towards that goal.

In Canada, the Food and Drug Act does not require companies to test their products or ingredients on animals, just to ensure that these personal care products are safe for consumer use. Furthermore, 88 percent of Canadians support a national ban, but to date, the practice still occurs here, making the bill's introduction a positive and essential development.

"It's a really important first step," says Vetter. "We will be working with Senator Olsen over the summer to strengthen and make improvement to the bill's language."

"In the meanwhile, we are working on strengthening the public's support and asking people to go to to sign the petition. It will get sent to their member of Parliament, asking for their support so they will vote to move this bill forward and actually get it passed into law."

Approximately 75,000 Canadians have already signed.

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If passed, the bill establishes a two-tiered approach to end testing. It will include an end to the practice domestically and also an end to the import of products that were tested — or have ingredients that were tested — outside our borders. These items would not be allowed on Canadian store shelves.

Vetter says she feels the Canadian marketplace will benefit from the proposed bill. "The world is already moving in the cruelty-free direction, with the largest cosmetics market in the world having already banned it — the European Union."

"In fact, this ban would open the current trade barrier with the European Union, which would be beneficial to Canada's economy. Since currently, Canadian cosmetics that have been tested on animals cannot be sold in Europe."

Canada isn't alone in North America when it comes to progressive lobbying for this cause. On June 26, The Humane Cosmetics Act was reintroduced by the United States’ Congress; if passed, legislation would end testing there as well.

According to the American Federal Drug Administration — just like in Canada — testing is not even a legal requirement; it's an outdated practice that can be replaced by more humane initiatives.

There are close to 50 alternative tests being used around the world by cosmetics companies practicing an ethical-testing approach. Humane Society International lists the use of artificial human skin as one option and the use of eyes from bovine and chickens who have already being slaughtered for the meat industry as another. The emergence of award-winning projects innanotechnology, have further supported cruelty-free methods.

Still, 100,000 animals from around the world are blinded, poisoned and killed yearly in cosmetic tests; this includes rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits. Rabbits have long had the unfortunate honour of being the poster animal for lab experiments. They are docile, easy to handle and they don't have tear ducts, which makes them easy targets for practices like the Draize eye test; a test that exposes their eyes to chemicals for a long period of time.

Currently 500 cosmetics companies in North America are certified as being cruelty-free. By choosing to purchase their products, consumers have the power to affect positive change. One of the easiest ways to find them is by looking for the Leaping Bunny logo on household and beauty products.

"The Leaping Bunny symbol is the strongest certification in the world, mainly because they are a third party auditor, creating more public trust since it goes beyond the policy a company sets themselves," says Vetter.

Logical Harmony conducts product reviews and provides a list of ethical makeup that gets updated weekly.

Unfortunately, an easy way to discern if a company is not cruelty-free is if their products are sold in China. China remains the only country that requires incoming foreign products be animal-tested in order to be sold on their market. So even if a company doesn't do any testing at home, by association, when their products enter China, testing does occur.

Last month, The Daily Mail exposed industry heavyweights like L'Oreal, Revlon and Olay for this practice. They sell cosmetics in the EU — where testing and importing tested-upon products have been outlawed since 2013— but continue to export to China as well. Regrettably, this decision negates their claim of being legitimately cruelty-free.

Humane Society International has had one small victory in China recently: while foreign brands are still having their products tested, homegrown companies will be exempt from the practice.

Close observers of the cruelty-free movement — and those involved on the front lines — have experienced incremental victories yearly: more companies adopting harm-free practices and more consumers purchasing harm-free products. Although change hasn't historically been happening in giant leaps — as eight out of ten countries around the world still do some form of testing — slowly it has been happening.