The surge in sustainable buying habits and eco-consciousness has compelled us to consider how animals and animal byproducts are used in everyday consumer goods. Even if you are not a vegan, there is an ethical case to be made for purchasing "cruelty-free" items. However, you may be startled to learn that this animal-friendly marketing term does not imply what you think it does. More bathroom, personal care, cosmetics, and home items now have some variation of a "cruelty-free" claim than ever before, but what does it represent?
What Exactly Does "Cruelty-Free" Mean?
According to the FDA, the phrase has no clear legal meaning, so companies are allowed to use the terminology however they see fit. Typically, the objective is to attract ethical customers who are prepared to spend more money than others who are less worried about the sources of the products they use.
Companies often use the "cruelty-free" claim to indicate that they do not test goods on animals or damage them in any manner. Unlike more precise terminology such as "not tested on animals," "cruelty-free" makes no assurance. Like "natural," it's one of those words where government restrictions have lagged behind marketing trends.
One frequent misconception in the United States is that cosmetics must be tested on animals. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not explicitly require animal tests. Nevertheless, some countries like China (an enormous market) require that all cosmetics be tested on animals. Some "cruelty-free" companies modify their stance to reach the Chinese market.
Common Interpretations of "Cruelty-Free"
Because "cruelty-free" does not have a singular legal or official definition, numerous companies and organizations use it with a variety of meanings.
They have a "Cruelty-Free" accreditation from a 3rd party.
No animals were ever harmed or used in testing the ingredients or the final product.
The company relied on tests carried out previously, but conducted no tests of its own, and no businesses in its supply chain conducted tests.
The finished product never underwent animal testing, but the ingredients did.
The company subcontracted the animal testing to another business.
The testing took place in a foreign country.
Testing only occurred "where required by law" in countries like China.
An animal was killed to provide an "animal product," but no testing took place.
Of these common scenarios, some make the case that the first three are the most ethical, while those further down the list grow increasingly problematic.
Programs for Cruelty-Free Certification
If you're looking for "cruelty-free" products, consider checking the Leaping Bunny database or Beauty Without Bunnies, PETA's certification program and directory of authorized businesses. The distinctions between these certificates are discussed further below. Both are popular, but everyone must decide for themselves which one conforms to their values.
PETA – Beauty Without Bunnies
PETA requires companies to "complete a short questionnaire and sign a statement of assurance verifying that they do not conduct, commission, or pay for any animal tests for ingredients, formulations, or finished products and that they pledge not to do so in the future" to receive a cruelty-free certification. If these companies wish to use PETA's cruelty-free bunny emblem, they must pay a one-time charge of $100.
PETA has enormous media clout. So if a corporation breaches its statement of assurance and is busted for it, they should brace themselves for a PR disaster.
Leaping Bunny is not as well-known as PETA, but its certification method seems to be more comprehensive. Leaping Bunny's contract demands firms develop a "Supplier Monitoring System" and enable independent audits of their company. Furthermore, they want companies to sign a statement of assurance similar to the one PETA uses. If you want to double-check brands when shopping, Leaping Bunny provides a "cruelty-free" app that you can download for free.
"Cruelty-Free" Is a Tricky Term, but Certification Databases May Help
The term "cruelty-free" is widely used in marketing cosmetics, personal care items, and other consumer goods. However, there is no clear legal definition of this term, which leaves room for companies to use it with (too much) flexibility. As a result, it can be tough for consumers who want to purchase ethical and animal-friendly products to navigate the market.
Fortunately, there are organizations like PETA and Leaping Bunny that offer certification programs to help consumers identify products that are genuinely "cruelty-free." Someday, the "cruelty-free" movement may take over the whole market. But, for now, it's still essential for consumers to do their own research and choose products that align with their sustainability goals.
Read Labels: When shopping for personal care, cosmetics, or household products, read the labels carefully to ensure that the product is not tested on animals or does not contain animal-derived ingredients.
Support Accreditation: Supporting companies that produce "cruelty-free" products effectively promotes the movement. Consumers can tell other companies that animal testing is no longer acceptable.
Educate Others: Raising awareness about animal testing and the importance of "cruelty-free" products is essential to promote the movement. Educating friends and family members about the issue and encouraging them to make informed choices will help create a more compassionate world.