15/11/2013 06:14 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:56 GMT

China Takes First Steps on Path to Beauty Without Cruelty

In a striking development, China recently announced plans to phase out its mandatory animal test requirements for domestically produced "ordinary" cosmetics. The policy shift, which will take hold in June 2014, will see the legal requirement for cosmetic animal tests removed first for "ordinary" cosmetics manufactured within China, and possibly then extended to include foreign imports and more specialised cosmetic products too. It marks a dramatic change for a country that hasn't revised its cosmetics regulations for more than 20 years. For the first time ever, companies will have the choice to submit cosmetic safety data from European Union-validated non-animal tests instead of using rabbits, mice and other animals.

Humane Society International's Be Cruelty-Free campaign team has been working hard with Chinese policymakers, regulators and scientists to change the requirement to test cosmetics on animals, and this latest development is testament to our efforts. The Chinese people have also added their voices to countless compassionate consumers worldwide to speak up for the estimated 300,000 animals each year who suffer in China's cosmetics laboratories.

Cruelty-free companies should be watching this development with interest. Many, such as LUSH, Paul Mitchell, MooGoo, Urban Decay, Method and others have taken a strong stance in defence of their 'no animal testing' principles and have refused to sell in China under the current animal test regime. For them, the possibility of bringing their cruelty-free products to Chinese consumers is very exciting.

Most market-leading brands have been selling in China for years of course. Like their cruelty-free counterparts, they too will have the choice to verify the safety of their products using non-animal tests and existing ingredients data. Some will ditch cosmetics cruelty and some won't. Why? Because for as long as a company insists on using new-to-the-world cosmetic chemistries for which there is no back catalogue of safety data and an as-yet incomplete set of non-animal test methods, animal tests will still have to take place to fill the data gaps. Choose new ingredients and you choose animal testing. China's new rules put the ball squarely back in the companies' court.

I have never understood why our vanity has had to be at the cost of so much suffering to animals: rabbits restrained in stocks while chemicals are dripped into their eyes until swollen and ulcerated, or their fur shaved away so that ingredients and products can be rubbed into their delicate bare skin.

But today we have an increasing number of non-animal methods for assessing a chemical's safety for humans. Indeed, China's announcement comes amidst a growing global trend towards replacing animal tests with internationally recognized and accepted in vitro methods that offer faster, cheaper, more human-relevant results without any animal suffering at all. Cosmetics animal testing is already banned across the EU, Israel and India. With the EU and Israel having also banned the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics, interest in non-animal alternative test methods has understandably increased amongst regulators in China, Brazil and elsewhere.

HSI's Be Cruelty-Free campaign is a major driver for this dynamic global effort, and progress in China could very well mark a watershed moment for other Asian countries, and take us one step closer to achieving a world where no animal has to suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics. Our opinion polls demonstrate that consumers from all nations, creeds and cultures are united in their desire to see their governments take swift action to end cosmetics cruelty.

It shouldn't be forgotten that right up until the day the EU ban on cosmetics animal testing came into force in 2009, the cosmetics industry still resisted change. Such scaremongering proved unfounded. Later, when EU policymakers were pressed to finally implement the 2013 sales ban, the cosmetics industry wanted yet more delay. EU Commissioner Tonio Borg said no, as the incentive of a ban meant industry would quickly find alternatives to animal testing. And they have.

So once China changes its law, what excuse will companies use next if they are still animal testing?