Animal-rights groups are returning to a fight with cosmetic firms they believed was settled decades ago -- product testing on live animals.
The companies insist that they remain opposed to animal testing and don't use them in the U.S., but are paying for them to be done in Chinese government labs as required by that country's State Food and Drug Administration.
That stance, unchanged after several months of negotiations with animal-rights activists, prompted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to quietly remove Avon, Mary Kay and Estee Lauder products from its "no-test" list last fall.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society removed Mary Kay products from its "Compassionate Shopping List" in October after several months of discussions about the Chinese requirements, said society President Sue Leary. The other firms had never been on the list.
All three companies say they only use animal tests or allow them on their behalf, when "required by law," and are committed to expanding acceptance of alternative testing practices.
"We do not conduct animal testing on our products or ingredients, nor ask others to do so on our behalf, except when absolutely required by law. There is only one country where we operate where that is the case -- China,'' Clayton Webb, director of corporate communications for Mary Kay, Inc., said in a statement.
PETA officials went public with their concerns late last week "after it became apparent that the companies were continuing to mislead the public. Company consumer information lines until at least last week continued to claim that they don't test on animals and don't pay anyone to do it,'' Kathy Guillermo, PETA vice president for laboratory investigations, said in an interview.
Avon publicly abandoned testing in 1989, after PETA launched a confrontational "Avon Killing" campaign. Mary Kay, dogged by a storyline featuring "Mary Kay Commandos" in Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County" cartoons, eliminated the tests the same year. The Estee Lauder companies followed in 1990.
Animal testing of cosmetics is neither banned nor required under U.S. law, but regulations in China (and a few other nations) still call for the use of skin- and eye-irritation tests on animals for certain products to enter the country's $15 billion-and-rapidly-growing cosmetics market.
The three companies "have regressed a generation. Their products are once again being dripped into rabbits' eyes and smeared onto animals' abraded skin," Guillermo said. "Fortunately, consumers don't have to backslide with them -- we can still choose to purchase products from the more than 1,000 companies on PETA's list of companies that do not test on animals."
Guillermo said there are good non-animal tests for eye and skin irritation that are accepted all over the world, but not recognized by the Chinese.
PETA officials held lengthy discussions with Mary Kay last year about trying to convince Chinese officials to switch to alternative methods. "It appears the Chinese are willing to hear and learn, but not just from the companies,'' Guillermo said.
Webb of Mary Kay said when the company "learned of requirements by regulatory agencies in China, we were obliged to follow the law, as we do in every country where we operate. But this is a passionate issue for us. We are working very closely with the Chinese government to demonstrate that alternative testing methods ensure safe and effective products.''
The Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS) in Gaithersburg, Md., is heading an international consortium of companies that market in countries where animal testing is required to promote alternatives. Both Avon and Mary Kay support the program financially, as does PETA.
The institute last month announced it was stepping up its international outreach and education program to "drive regulatory change in those countries that still require animal testing for cosmetic and personal-care products,'' particularly China. And it hired Dr. Brian Jones, who had been head of developing animal alternatives at Mary Kay and has made frequent trips to China, to lead the new initiative.
Last April, with support from Estee Lauder and Mary Kay, among other firms, the Chinese FDA and a number of other health and regulatory agencies in China set up three meetings in Beijing and the technology center of Guangzhou to demonstrate and promote "alternatives to animal experimentation for cosmetics," according to an IIVS summary of the meetings.
The summary said it was clear that recognized alternative methods "would gradually be approved by the SFDA for evaluation of cosmetics."
Guillermo said, "We're hoping everyone can step it up so that it doesn't take 10 years for China to validate non-animal tests. It shouldn't take that long to adopt methods that don't poison animals."
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com