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Consumers can convince companies to do the right thing

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Never doubt the power of the consumer. When the hip cosmetics company Urban Decay--whose policy against testing on animals is part of its brand--announced plans to begin selling its products in China, where cruel and deadly animal tests are required by the government, disappointed consumers took action. Thousands of them flooded Urban Decay's headquarters with e-mails, and the company soon reversed course. For staying true to its slogan--"We don't test on animals. How could anyone?"--and putting ethics ahead of profits, Urban Decay recently received PETA's Courage in Commerce Award.

It's bad enough that some companies are willing to shed their animal-friendly policies as easily as last year's Day-Glo animal prints for a share of the market in China. But consumers might be surprised to learn that many makers of cosmetics and household products still poison and blind animals right here at home. That doesn't mean that we have to buy what they're selling.

In laboratories across the country, rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs and other animals are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of a test substance or endure pain as a chemical eats away at their eyes or skin. Some tests, such as the now infamous lethal dose test, continue until a predetermined percentage of the animals die.  

Animal tests are not required by law for cosmetics and household products in the U.S., and they often produce inaccurate or misleading results--even if a product has blinded an animal, it can still be marketed to consumers. Fortunately, the number of forward-thinking companies continues to grow as more and more manufacturers reject cruel and crude animal tests--relics of the 1920s--and opt instead for modern, sophisticated techniques to test the safety of their products. More than 1,300 companies, including Burt's Bees, The Body Shop, Method and Trader Joe's, refuse to test their products on animals.  

These non-animal testing methods are accurate and fast--and no one gets hurt.  

The situation is a little different in China, where the government currently requires cosmetics companies to test ingredients and products only on animals--although that's about to change, too. Thanks to guidance from scientists funded by PETA, Chinese officials are in the final stages of approving the use of the country's first-ever non-animal testing method for cosmetics ingredients. The test should be accepted in China by late summer.

That's the good news. The bad news is that unlike Urban Decay, some companies have decided that they won't wait and are selling out animals for the sake of overseas profits. Earlier this year, PETA was forced to remove Avon, Estee Lauder and Mary Kay--three companies that had been cruelty-free for decades--from our list of companies that don't test on animals after learning that these cosmetics giants have been quietly paying to poison animals in laboratories at the behest of the Chinese government.  

When these three companies banned animal tests back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they spearheaded a new era for consumer products. Dozens of other companies soon followed suit, prohibiting all tests on animals and marketing their products as cruelty-free.   

Mary Kay, Avon and Està e Lauder may have regressed a generation, but consumers don't have to backslide with them. We can still choose to purchase products from the more than 1,300 companies that are committed to their cruelty-free principles. Rewarding ethical corporate behavior--purchasing humanely produced items instead of ones that are cruelly produced--does make a difference. Just ask Urban Decay.

Amanda Nordstrom is a research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) Laboratory Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.  
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with 6.5 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the (more...)

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