EU Bans Animal-Tested Cosmetics | What Can We Learn from Research?
Guest blog by Hans Gutbrod, Ottawa, Canada
The European Union banned the sale of all cosmetics tested on animals on March 11, 2013, after already prohibiting such tests within the EU in 2009. Animal Defenders International (ADI), one organization advocating for the ban, expects that as a result “most non-EU [cosmetics] companies will stop using animals in their tests altogether”, since Europe buys close to half of the world’s cosmetics.
Ending the testing of cosmetics on animals, as most reasonable people will agree, constitutes major progress, and ADI even calls it a “massive victory”. The campaign, with its likely global impact, could well be a model for other advocacy efforts. Yet getting there, as ADI says, was a “long, long, haul”. What, then, are some of the lessons that stand out from achieving this ban in Europe? And specifically, what does research tell us about the campaign, its successes and challenges?
The United Kingdom perhaps offers the most instructive case on the campaign to end animal testing. The UK is home to two veteran animal advocacy groups, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) and ADI, which emerged out of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). Both organizations have campaigned for many decades, in Europe and the UK, and have pushed the ban of cosmetics testing with particular intensity over the last 30-40 years. They helped to end animal experimentation for cosmetics in the UK back in 1998, and together with European partners, continued their campaign in Brussels, with their websites providing detailed accounts of their efforts (see links for BUAV and ADI). Moreover, survey data paints a rich picture of attitudes in the UK over time.
While a more detailed history of this campaign will eventually be written, a number of factors stand out as likely contributing to success:
Building on Widespread Consensus:
A strong majority wanted cosmetics not tested on animals. The British Social Attitudes Survey (here, but login needed) found, back in 1983, that 78% of people in Great Britain considered it unacceptable “to use animals for testing and improving cosmetics.” With a total of 12% accepting the testing of cosmetics on animals in 1983, only 3% considered such testing entirely acceptable.
Separating & Sequencing, Informed by Research:
Animal advocates can face a number of competing concerns. Research helps decide which of these concerns resonate with the public. For this campaign, a detailed 1999 IPSOS-MORI poll showed an overwhelming rejection of inflicting suffering for testing cosmetics, but a sliding scale of views on animal experimentation for medical purposes. In the survey, 86% rejected the testing of cosmetics on mice, if the experiment resulted in suffering. Yet, attitudes changed when a more substantive benefit was promised, illustrating how many respondents perceive welfare as a trade-off. Nearly two-thirds (65%) endorsed painful experimentation on mice for the purpose of developing a new drug to cure leukemia in children. A majority, 57%, accepted such experimentation on mice for the purposes of developing an AIDS vaccine, and a little less than half the population, 47%, was in favor of painful experimentation if it helped to develop new painkillers. Thus, the winning issue with regards to animal research clearly was to target animal experimentation for the cosmetics industry first, as a way of furthering alternatives to animal testing in other fields.
Integrating Diverse Constituencies:
Research illustrates that the campaign needed to integrate diverse constituencies, reconciling the tension between ambition and pragmatism, a challenge in many pursuits of justice. For significant segments of the UK population, animal experimentation is an issue that brooks no compromise. The 1999 IPSOS-MORI question on using mice for research to cure leukemia in children highlights this view: 32% reject such experimentation once it inflicts suffering on the mice; about half of those, 15%, appear to reject experimentation on animals on principle, even if it is painless. In other words, nearly a third of the population feels that animals should not be hurt, whatever the promised benefit to humans. At the same time, roughly 60% of the population view animal experimentation as a matter of practical trade-offs. Plus/minus 10% depending on how a trade-off is framed, this 60% seems fairly stable throughout other studies, including a 2012 survey commissioned by the BBC. The number of people favoring animal research remained relatively constant throughout the years as well, with about 10-12% saying that they endorse experimentation if it offers some benefit to humans. The data thus suggests that the key challenge for the campaign was to keep engaging the majority of the population that viewed welfare as a trade-off, without losing supporters that might have considered the campaign overly pragmatic. Powerful as some commercial interests and political lethargy may have been, the actual number of people supporting freewheeling animal experimentation was small.
Prevailing Through Fatigue:
Continuing to engage over time is tough, and probably requires a good combination of long-term aims with short-term wins. Data is not entirely conclusive, but it suggests that abhorrence of animal experimentation may have fallen over time. For example, the British Social Attitudes Survey shows that people strongly disagreeing with the use of animals for testing and improving cosmetics actually decreased markedly, from 60% in 1983 to 40% in 1993—even as the total number of people disagreeing with animal testing stayed fairly stable. Comprehensive qualitative research by IPSOS-MORI in 1999 highlighted that focus group participants, while sympathetic to animals, “readily deconstructed [media stories] as playing on people’s emotions”. Similarly, a 2009 study by IPSOS-MORI, conducted for the British Department for Business Innovation and Skills, suggested that the number of people who wanted to know more about animal testing before forming an opinion had decreased from 64% in 1999 to 46% in 2008.
Translating Sentiment into Action:
Survey results show that advocates in the UK had been successful in mobilizing support on a significant scale, probably helping to sustain momentum for the cause. A 1999 IPSOS-MORI study found that 7% of respondents said they were involved in an animal welfare organization, 3% said they had written a letter to their Member of Parliament or a newspaper to protest against animal experimentation, and a full 20% claimed they had signed a petition on an animal welfare issue. At least some of these signatures are likely to have supported the ban. One particular initiative by the European Coalition To End Animal Experiments, an organization linked with the BUAV, collected 4 million signatures throughout Europe. On its side, the ADI repeatedly ran petitions as well, collecting over 100,000 signatures in 1997 in a push for transparency around animal testing, and another 10,000 in 1999 on a technical issue focusing on an EU Directive.
Providing Attractive Commercial Alternatives:
The increasing availability of hip alternatives supported the switch towards cosmetics not tested on animals. One leader of “ethical consumerism” was the The Body Shop, which started in the 1970s and specifically offered cosmetics not tested on animals, while also collaborating with the BUAV. The 1999 IPSOS-MORI poll found that 32% of respondents in the UK said they had “bought ‘cruelty-free’ cosmetics, not tested on animals”, a high number given that not everyone buys cosmetic products. This demonstrated that consumers – and businesses – could do well with products not tested on animals. A woman, 45+ from Leeds, who participated in a 1999 IPSOS-MORI focus group summarized this view by saying: “I mean, surely they should have enough knowledge now not to have to test lipstick on a rat or something like that?”
Expanding from the Best Constituency:
As mentioned above, the EU ban on animal-tested cosmetics is likely to have a worldwide impact, since global manufacturers will adapt to the rules of the world’s single largest market. The EU thus has an impact far beyond its borders. Yet the data suggests that animal experimentation was not of itself a European issue, as levels of concern varied within the EU. Engaged countries seem to have brought others along. A cross-country comparative study, launched in 1988 and supported by the National Science Foundation, found that more than 65% of people in France and West Germany disagreed with painful animal experimentation on chimpanzees and dogs for medical purposes, as compared to about 35% in Portugal and Greece. (For comparison, 42% disagreed with such experiments in the United States, and 49% in Canada. Note, though, that this data was collected more than 20 years ago.) Thus, Britain’s ban on testing cosmetics on animals in 1998, as well as a number of similar measures in other countries, helped to bring about a broader change across Europe and beyond. This particular trajectory of success may suggest that one lesson is to consolidate gains in constituencies amenable to change, before taking the policy gains to the next level, bringing along less active groups. Put differently, in pursuing transformative change, one powerful strategy may be going deep before you go wide.
Less visible, but critical, is the question of sustained financial support for advocacy. Some of the movement’s funding base is precarious: ADI’s 2011 expenditures worldwide at $4.5 million were more than twice its annual income, and it highlighted that during 2011 it “suffered a massive drop in income as the recession bit deep”, halving its revenue compared to 2010, and that this “threatened all other activity.” ADI reported that for 2011, 59% of its funding relied on legacies, i.e. people leaving money in their wills, often linked to proceeds from selling their house. Donations accounted for 20%, and fundraising and merchandise for only 5% of income. BUAV in its annual report (behind pay wall) reported a similarly high reliance (55%) on legacies. Somewhat ironically, a poor housing market makes it much more difficult to help animals. One fundamental question for future research thus is how to convert general sympathy for a cause into reliable long-term contributions. As an ambitious thought experiment, if the third of the UK population that rejects inflicting suffering on animals for research would give the equivalent of $1 per year, this donation would add up to $20+ million, nearly three times the combined ADI and BUAV annual budgets. Sustained advocacy will continue to require long-term funding, and the successful campaign to ban cosmetics tested on animals shows that this investment can pay off.
Provisionally, these are some of the factors that stand out when summarizing the research. It would be interesting to hear from BUAV and ADI, as well as other organizations, how this account matches their experience. For the UK, there is sufficient data and primary research to write an in-depth study, and comparing attitudes to the US should be illuminating. One key resource for anyone pursuing this subject further is IPSOS-MORI, who have repeatedly researched public attitudes, sometimes “to inform […] communications work” by organizations involved with animal experiments for biomedical research. The studies nevertheless are extremely well done and serve as a contribution to understanding the field. A list of IPSOS-MORI’s relevant work can be found here.
Beyond the numbers, the study of this campaign unearths several curious pieces of history. Queen Victoria herself apparently supported the earliest attempts to ban experiments on animals in Britain. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (to unpack the acronyms once more, and the NAVS eventually merged into Animal Defenders International, ADI) were founded by the same people, with the groups splitting between abolitionists and reformists back in 1898. After the Second World War, the NAVS was headed by Lord Dowding, the Royal Air Force leader generally credited with winning the Battle of Britain in 1940. While some of Lord Dowding’s interests, such as theosophy, may not be for everyone, it could still be seen as notable that a man widely regarded as one of Britain’s war heroes campaigned for the principle that decent persons should do no harm to those weaker than themselves.
Hans Gutbrod is a volunteer blogger for HRC. He writes: “I love research, especially if it aims to win people for a good cause. This is why I find HRC’s mission so appealing: an evidence-based approach to show us what works in helping people make better, healthier and fairer choices. I know from personal experience that quality research can make a huge difference, as I have run a research organization in the Caucasus for many years, overseeing 100+ research projects to track social, economic and political developments. It was a thrilling experience: research solves tough problems, thrives on teams that enjoy collaborating, and mobilizes creativity. Good research informs our thinking, inspires us to tackle big challenges, and guides our action. I really look forward to meeting more people engaged with HRC, and its great cause.” Born in Campinas, Brazil, Hans has lived and worked in Ottawa, Tbilisi, Berlin, London, Stuttgart, as well as the Black Forest, and holds a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He believes good causes should go even more mainstream, continues to work in research and development, loves mountains, wind & water, and is on Google+ and Twitter.