The Chinese government mandate of animal testing for imported cosmetics and skincare products made entrepreneur Phoebe Song stop cold after she had launched her organic, vegan skincare line that she had planned to sell around the world, including in China, the world’s largest consumer market.
“As a vegan brand, we are really not cool with animals getting sprayed in the face,” said Song, who owns Snow Fox Skincare. “It sucks, because China is a huge market … it’s a lot of money,” reports CNBC.
Before regulators approve products for sale in the country, China requires skincare and cosmetics firms to submit to compulsory animal testing in government labs. according to Euromonitor, the cosmetics market in China is worth $29 billion last year and either allowing animal testing, or losing access to the market were the only options available for brands like Song’s Snow Fox due to these regulations.
Experts say that including major foreign brands L’Oreal, Estee Launder, Shiseido and Procter & Gamble, all firms selling to Chinese consumers now undergo animal testing for their products.
Those companies insert language that indicates exceptions are made where required even though they state online that they do not engage in animal testing. For instance, Estee Lauder says it “does not test on animals and we never ask others to do so on our behalf,” according to a statement on its website. “If a regulatory body demands it for its safety or regulatory assessment, an exception can be made.”
According to the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Kathy Guillermo, who explained that an animal is killed after a test, China’s mandatory regulations resulted in companies testing products on as many as 300,000 animals, a 2013 estimate by the organization found.
Experts said China currently lacks the know-how even though there are alternative ways of testing the safety of beauty products, for instance, by using 3-D tissue models.
“They’re just completely behind the curve in learning about the new science,” said Erin Hill, president of U.S.-based Institute of In Vitro Sciences, which is training Chinese government scientists in new methods. In order to work on non-animal testing procedures, IIVS also partners with companies, including foreign brands in China.
The 3T3 phototoxicity assay measures the safety of a chemical after exposure to light and the government moved to accept safety data collected through this non-animal test method late last year. The government hasn’t said if this test is yet in use.
And now applicait0on apply to waive the animal testing requirements can be made in some provinces where companies domestically manufacture ordinary products, like lotion and soap.
According to L’Oreal’s website, some of its products, such as shampoo and body wash, are no longer animal tested in China as the company is taking advantage of this.
But experts said getting such approvals can be spotty as China’s murky regulatory environment is difficult to navigate.
“It’s a big task to make this shift — it comes down to having the right laboratories, the people skilled in these different methods, and also access to the equipment and the supplies you need,” Hill said.
As animal testing gets banned in more jurisdictions, including Europe, Australia, India and Israel, pressure is increasing for China to adapt. It has long been abandoned from standard practice in the U.S.
The safety of their products via non-animal methods has to be substantiated by domestic Chinese firms that want to sell abroad — especially in countries where such testing is no longer allowed.
(Adapted from CNBC)