What exactly does “not tested on animals” mean on a product, like a shampoo?

 What exactly does “not tested on animals” mean on a product, like a shampoo? Where can I find products that are completely not tested on animals and are also eco-friendly?

—James Masarech, via e-mail

Many consumer products go through precise testing to make sure they are safe and healthy for people and the environment before they are made available in the marketplace. The downside is that many of these tests make use of live animals. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), safety testing of chemicals and consumer products accounts for roughly 10 to 20 percent of the use of animals in laboratories (or approximately two to four million animals) in the U.S.

The majority of animals used in product tests are rats and mice, but dogs, cats, sheep, hamsters, guinea pigs and primates are also used. Significantly more animals are used in biomedical and other kinds of research, but the use of animals in product testing figures prominently in the animal research controversy because it questions the “ethics and humaneness of deliberately poisoning animals [and] the propriety of harming animals for the sake of marketing a new cosmetic or household product,” says HSUS.

Governments often mandate that certain products, such as drugs, automotive fluids, garden chemicals and food additives, be tested on animals. In other cases, such as with cosmetics, personal care and household cleaning products, companies voluntarily test on animals to better understand the pros and cons of using certain ingredients, to see what effects a given product or ingredient will have on living systems—and to demonstrate due diligence should their products harm someone and a lawsuit be filed.

In response to these widespread practices, advocacy groups like HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign vigorously to eliminate or reduce the use of animals in product testing, even recommending boycotts of companies that continue to voluntarily engage in what they argue is both cruel and unnecessary. This advocacy has been effective, as more than 500 cosmetic, personal care and household cleaning products manufacturers have vowed to stop testing their products on animals.

In 2003 the European Parliament approved a Europe-wide ban on the use of animals in cosmetics testing. Set to go into effect in 2009, the prohibition also mandates that no beauty or hygiene products tested on animals elsewhere be sold inside the European Union. Some exemptions do exist, however, such as products tested for toxicity or for their potential effects on human fertility. Some animal advocacy groups see these as unacceptable loopholes likely to undermine the ban or push back its implementation.

In 1986 an international group of animal protection organizations that includes HSUS formed the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The coalition urges cosmetics and household products manufacturers to sign on to a “Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals” policy and agree to not conduct or commission animal tests or use any ingredient or formulation that is tested on animals. Companies portray the coalition’s “leaping bunny” logo on products as proof of their commitment. CCIC publishes a pocket-sized “cruelty free” shopping guide which can also be downloaded from its website.

CONTACT: CCIC Shopping Guide, www.leapingbunny.org/pdf/ccicguide_full.pdf.