Photo Credit: Flickr | Maria Rantanen
Edited with Permission by Frontier
Recently, news broke about China officially ending requirements on post-market animal testing for cosmetics. According to Chinese agency Gansu Province National Medical Products Association, beauty goods imported or produced in China no longer require to be tested on animals once they have hit the market. One step closer to the end on animal testing in China, you might think? The decision certainly steers the direction to a more humane way to ensure cosmetics are safe but it’s still far away from truly halting cosmetics animal testing in mainland China.
China is the largest country in the world that stills requires beauty goods to be tested on animals by law. It’s not the only country that conducts tests on animals -for cosmetics or research purposes - by any means because even though many countries do not require test on animals, they are also not banned. In fact, most of the countries do not have a law banning cosmetic testing on animals which leaves the choice for companies to decide whether or not they want to be cruelty-free.
Since 2013, testing cosmetics on animals and the sales of animal-tested beauty items has been illegal within European Union. The ban includes both ingredients and the final product and it was seen as a huge leap for animal rights. The ban in the EU was followed by similar bans in Norway, India and Israel.
While other countries are tightening laws regarding animal testing for cosmetics, China has maintained its stand on animal testing requirements for products accessing its £2.4 billion revenue cosmetics market which is soon expected to become the biggest beauty market in the world.
In China, the compulsory animal testing for all cosmetics, whether they were imported or produced in the country, was combined of two phases; pre-market testing and post-market testing. In 2014, China lifted the ban slightly by removing pre-market animal testing requirements for cosmetics produced in the country. These products were still subject to post-market testing, often without the knowledge or permission from companies, making them not cruelty-free. All the cosmetics from sunscreens to lipsticks had so far been tested on animals before entering the market and could be taken from the shelves for testing at any time.
In many Western countries, the awareness on the cruelty of animal testing is on rise and becoming a critical factor when making a purchase. While the desire to enter the lucrative Chinese markets seems to be growing, an increasing number of companies is trying to avoid the ‘non cruelty-free’ label and its negative connotations. Some cosmetics brands have tasked third-parties to conduct the required animal testing in order to keep their own company name clean and ethical. However, according to Leaping Bunny standards, the highest cruelty-free standard in the EU, USA and Canada, a company cannot be considered cruelty-free if their products are tested by a third-party.
There are some exceptions to animal testing requirements in China. Cosmetics products sold online do not have to be tested on animals as the law only applies to companies that either produced or sell their products in a store located in mainland China. The other exception is Hong Kong which does not fall under the Chinese animal testing laws, meaning foreign cosmetics can be sold there without conducting tests on animals.
It should be remembered that the recent end of post-market animal testing in China is not an actual ban. The statement by Gansu Province National Medical Products Association reveals that animal testing is no longer a requirement in the post-market surveillance process. This does not mean non-routine animal testing couldn’t still be conducted in case of a complaint about a product.
So, what does the end of animal testing requirements on post-market beauty goods really change?
Not much, to be honest. All the foreign cosmetics still have to be tested before entering the market, making most of companies that import to China non cruelty-free. Humane Society International considered the news about the removal of post-market animal testing requirements encouraging but not as the end of animal testing in China.
“China recently released for the first time its post-market testing plan, & it reveals that no animal tests are listed for routine post-market surveillance. However, in the case of non-routine tests, eg: a consumer complaint about a product, unless/until authorities accept modern non-animal eye/skin irritation tests, & invest in local infrastructure to use such tests, animal testing could still be the default. Pre-market cosmetic animal testing in China for foreign imports and special-use products, remains unchanged.”
Truly cruelty-free brands are still missing out on a huge, growing cosmetics market due to pre-market animal testing requirements and uncertainty of non-routine post-market tests. Until China finds cheap alternative ways to test the safety of cosmetics, - for many companies, alternative ways can be too expensive - it is unlikely China will completely give up on animal testing. However, the lift of animal testing requirements for domestic cosmetics in 2014 and the removal of animal testing from routine post-market surveillance in 2019 show that China is willing to change even if slowly.