Compassionate Consumerism

Lark Weller
Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability

Gandhi believed that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Sadly, everywhere we turn we see consumer products that have been tested on helpless animals. As many people struggle to create meaning in our increasingly mass marketed world, we as consumers are able, now more than ever, to take consciously compassionate actions every time we go to the store by purchasing cruelty-free products.

Cruelty-free products are those that have not been tested on animals and contain no animal ingredients or by-products. (Ideally, the product’s manufacturer also does not purchase ingredients from outside companies that test on animals.) Unfortunately, many companies needlessly put various animals (mice, rabbits, dogs, cats and monkeys, to name a few) through incredible suffering in the out-of-date practice of putting new and “improved” products through animal tests.

Federal law requires pharmaceuticals and chemical products to be tested on animals, but there is no law that requires any company to test cosmetics or household products, such as bathroom cleaner, on animals. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires that cosmetics and household products be proven safe before being marketed or labeled “hazardous” or “safety of product not established.” Proving the safety of these products need not involve animals.

Many reliable, animal-friendly alternatives to animal testing exist. Aside from mathematical and computer models which predict the irritancy of substances on the basis of their chemical structures, EpiDerm, derived from foreskin cells which are grown into three-dimensional tissue, is used for basic skin research and to test for irritancy. These are just two examples of at least nine methods that replace animal tests.

The two most common animal tests still widely in use today are the Draize Test and the Lethal Dose 50% (LD-50) Test. The Draize test attempts to assess the hazards of chemicals by observing the damage they cause to animals’ skin and eyes. This damage is observed by applying these chemicals directly on the animals’ skin or directly in their eyes, causing irreparable damage to the animal. The LD-50 test is used to measure acute toxicity levels of certain ingredients. The LD-50 value is the amount or concentration of a substance that kills half a group of test animals within a specified time when that substance is forcibly ingested, inhaled, or otherwise exposed to an animal. What’s more, lab animals are ultimately killed when they have lost their utility to these inhumane companies. Animal testing, such as vivisection, has been shown to be less reliable and more costly than non-animal alternatives; still, animal experimentation is conducted on products from cosmetics to household cleaners to pharmaceuticals.

What can you do to put an end to animal testing?

Quite possibly, the most meaningful and powerful action you can take to end product testing on animals is to consciously become a compassionate consumer. You vote with your dollars. Purchase products whose labels clearly state that they have not been tested on animals and do not contain animal ingredients. Speak with your grocers and request that they regularly stock products that have not been tested on animals. When they respond to your requests, follow up by purchasing those products. Purchase only those products that you believe in: products that have not used outmoded animal tests on ingredients or final products and that contain no animal by-products.

Manufacturers, even large ones, are beginning to respond to consumer pressures. In the past five to 10 years, major manufacturers have yielded to economic pressure exerted by concerned citizens. For instance, Gillette began a moratorium on animal testing of its personal care and other consumer products and ingredients in 1996. Several other large companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Colgate Palmolive and SmithKline Beecham, have funded research that explores alternatives to animal testing. Locally, Aveda has made a commitment to not conduct any animal testing and to use as few animal by-products as possible (as much as 97% of their products’ ingredients are plant derived.) Additionally, local companies Nirvana and Brocato International offer cruelty-free hair care products.

You can extend the reach of your effect as a consumer by searching out alternative remedies. For example, many people find effective therapeutic results from herbal and homeopathic remedies or nutritional supplements. As many of these therapies are not under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) jurisdiction, they are often not tested on animals; keep in mind, though, some homeopathic remedies and nutritional supplements may contain animal ingredients. Remember: always consult a medical professional if you are considering alternative remedies.

Compassionate consumerism goes beyond the grocery and drug stores, though. At a time when much of the U.S. economy is tied to the stock market, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is a serious option for people who prefer to invest (or abstain from investing or boycott) according to their convictions. The premise of socially responsible investing is that institutions should financially support the beliefs of their investors rather than providing capital to organizations that act against those beliefs. There are many SRI funds, and most have animal welfare criteria that companies must meet before the group will invest in them. For one company’s statement on its animal welfare screen, see the Calvert Group at

Animal testing is a cruel, outmoded part of U.S. history. However, when consumers begin to exclusively purchase products that have not been tested on animals, vivisection may become entirely a thing of the past.


What You Can Do

* Read labels! Buy products that are not tested on animals and contain no animal ingredients and/or by-products. Contact companies that do still test on animals and inform them you will not purchase their products until they discontinue animal experimentation. Contact companies observing vivisection moratoriums to encourage them to announce a permanent ban.

* Contact your government representatives, the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies that conduct animal tests – demand that they make elimination of these tests a priority.

* Give charitable donations to organizations that conduct research without the use of animals. You can also clearly indicate on your donation, “This donation is not to be used to fund animal experimentation.”

* Support local co-ops and other businesses that provide cruelty-free products.

* Invest compassionately in SRIs that put your money in cruelty-free businesses.

* Contact (PeTA) People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for a lists or factsheets on:
– Companies That Test
– Companies That Don’t Test
– Animal Ingredients and Alternatives
– Health Charities That Test
– Health Charities That Don’t Test

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