In Brazil, the Senate is considering bill PLC 70/2014 (formerly 6602/13) to ban animal testing for cosmetics, and I and my colleagues in Brazil are hoping that it doesn't pass. That may sound like an odd statement from someone like me, who has campaigned for animals for many years, and who leads the #BeCrueltyFree campaign which has spearheaded efforts to end cosmetics cruelty globally. But the truth is that if Senators pass bill PLC 70/2014 in its current state, it will be a disaster for animals suffering in Brazil's beauty industry.
Testing cosmetics on live rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and other animals is as unethical as it is unscientific. Many of these tests were developed back in the 1940s and have failed to keep pace with the rigorous high standards of modern science. They are unreliable and they cause untold suffering to animals, most of whom will be killed at the end of the test by having their necks broken or suffocating in a gas chamber. These animals are dying an ugly death for Brazil's beauty industry, and it has to stop.
The problem with bill PLC 70/2014 is that it won't achieve that. Proponents are promoting it as the bill that will end cosmetics animal testing in Brazil--but it won't. Not even close. Senators are being told that the bill will end almost all cosmetics animal tests, or that passing the bill will be a 'first step' towards a full ban, but it's simply not true.
#BeCrueltyFree Brazil campaigners in Brasilia want a FULL ban on cosmetics cruelty, not a FALSE ban.
Opinion polls show that the majority of Brazilians want to see an end to cosmetics animal testing, but what they're not being told about this bill is that it contains major loopholes that leave the door wide open for virtually all animal testing to continue for cosmetics.
As with most things, the devil is in the detail. And it's in the detail of this bill where the loopholes lie. The draft legislation is worded such that it would ban animal testing for finished cosmetic products, but product testing hardly ever happens in Brazil and so in reality this will save virtually no animals. The majority of cosmetics testing takes place for the individual ingredients that go in to a product - the eye and skin irritancy, short term-toxicity, even genital toxicity tests on live animals, that together can cause swollen eyes, blindness, painful skin rashes, organ damage, convulsions and death. This testing will continue unless bill PLC 70/2014 is urgently amended.
I realise that this is inconvenient for those who are championing this bill. Like everyone else, Humane Society International was pleased to see the bill successfully voted in the Chamber of Deputies in June, but we also pointed to the critical need to fix the loopholes, which could be used to circumvent a ban. In my view, as inconvenient as it may be to spend the time needed to improve this bill, the animals dying every day for shampoo, mascara and lipstick deserve nothing less.
As inconvenient as it may be to spend the time needed to improve this bill, the animals dying every day for shampoo, mascara and lipstick deserve nothing less. Photo: PETA
Humane Society International's #BeCrueltyFree campaign is being straightforward with senators and supporters alike. Bill PLC 70/2014 only forbids animal testing for cosmetic ingredients with 'known effects'. Think about that for a minute. Why would any company waste time or money repeating the same animal test on the same ingredient if it already knows the result? It wouldn't, of course. Companies only conduct new testing to examine unknown effects of new or existing ingredients. This is what drives virtually all cosmetics animal testing in Brazil, and bill PLC 70/2014 does nothing to stop it. The bill also allows companies to side-step the ban by simply testing on animals abroad and importing the animal-tested products back into Brazil.
It is tempting to think that a weak ban is better than no ban at all, because we can always go back afterwards and improve it, right? Well, in truth once a law is in place, legislators are usually very reluctant to revisit it any time soon. The time to strengthen legislation is when it is being debated, they will say, not after the fact. It could be many years before Brazil's legislature is convinced to re-open the ban, and in the meantime countless rabbits and other animals will continue to suffer.
Thousands of Brazilians have signed a #BeCrueltyFree pledge to end cosmetics cruelty
Indeed, the impact of this bill could be felt far beyond Brazil. Humane Society International believes that the European Union test ban of 2009 and sales ban of 2013 set the bar rightfully high for all other countries to emulate. The EU leads the way, followed by India, in introducing bans on cosmetics cruelty that protect animals and consumers alike. Anything short of this robust approach would be selling out on the thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals enduring painful eye, skin and oral poisoning tests for Brazil's beauty industry. But it could also condemn thousands more animals in other countries if they seek to copy Brazil's 'lowest common denominator' ban that promises everything but delivers very little. HSI is determined to stop this dangerous precedent being set.
The good news is that bill PLC 70/2014 can be fixed. HSI's legal experts have identified the weak points and proposed amendments that will make this a watertight ban and deliver the end to cosmetics cruelty that people want. But senators are being advised to ignore the need for amendments.
Whether or not industry's vested interests are behind attempts to see this bad bill passed unchanged, I cannot say. But I can say this. Brazil's politicians have two choices: either they can introduce a ban of which Brazil can be proud, standing shoulder to shoulder with the EU and India to become the first country in South America to end cosmetics cruelty, or they can pass bill PLC 70/2014 unchanged and risk Brazil lagging behind on the global stage, saddled with a law that is nothing more than window dressing (and meaning that new Brazilian cosmetics could be illegal to sell in Europe for years to come).
As Brazil's general election approaches, I know which choice I would make.
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