In Canada, it is currently legal to test cosmetics on animals. Companies apply their products to rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals to test for harmful reactions before deeming the products safe for human use. Despite its legality, the question remains as to whether cosmetic testing constitutes cruelty to animals as outlined by section 445.1 of the Criminal Code.
The answer to this question is clear when the methods used in testing and the necessity of such testing are examined. Due to the intentional harm inflicted, the act of cosmetic testing on animals should be categorized as cruelty to animals according to section 445.1 of the Criminal Code.
Bill S-214, the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, was introduced in 2015 to amend the Food and Drugs Act. It intended to bar cosmetics companies from testing on animals and selling products that have been tested on animals. Bill S-214 argued there is no proof that animal testing guarantees whether a product will be safe for human use. The Bill was met with overwhelming support, but in the end, it died. While the Bill was not passed in Canada, many countries including India, Israel, and Norway have established laws prohibiting cosmetic animal testing. The enacting of such laws demonstrates agreement that the testing causes excessive harm and prove a ban on animal testing is possible.
To test cosmetic products, ingredients are rubbed directly into the animal’s eyes and skin. In other cases, substances are forcibly fed to the animals. The animals are monitored to check for blindness, hives, rashes, illness, and any other adverse effects. Brands claim this process ensures the product will be safe for human use. They often force animals to consume excessive amounts of product to determine a lethal dose. Testing can last from weeks to months, and the animals are killed at the end, typically without pain-relieving remedies.
Section 445.1 (1) of the Criminal Code states that it is an offence to, “wilfully [cause] … unnecessary pain, suffering or injury” to an animal, and to “wilfully, without reasonable excuse, [administer] a poisonous or injurious drug or substance” to an animal. By applying ingredients directly to animals’ bodies, cosmetic companies are intentionally administering substances they expect will cause injury or illness. In doing so, they are willfully causing the animals unnecessary suffering.
The Criminal Code deems it an offence to cause “unnecessary pain” and to apply poisonous or injurious drugs or substances to an animal “without reasonable excuse.” Some may argue that cosmetic testing on animals is a necessary evil to ensure products are safe for human use. This argument may have held up many years ago; however, it neglects to recognize alternative methods that have been developed for cosmetic testing.
Animal Alliance of Canada attests to several humane means of cosmetic testing such as the Bovine Cornea Opacity and Permeability test which mimics potential eye damage. Cruelty Free International outlines many other testing options including organs-on-chips. Through this process, human cells can be grown on chips to replicate organ functions. Substances can be applied to the chips to simulate the human body’s response. Moreover, not all species react to substances in the same way. While a product may not harm a rabbit or a mouse, it still holds the potential to cause adverse reactions in humans. Thus, alternative methods to animal testing are often more beneficial than animal testing itself.
While the obvious solution to this issue would be the banning of cosmetic testing on animals via the Criminal Code or an amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, this may not be the most realistic first step. The cosmetic industry is exceptionally profitable. Consequently, there is little reason to interfere with their business practices.
On an individual level, consumers can demonstrate their support for cruelty-free testing by refusing to shop from brands that test on animals. As animal rights movements start to gain popularity, more and more popular brands such as Covergirl, the Body Shop, and ELF have begun to create cruelty-free and vegan products. When social attitudes shift away from supporting businesses with inhumane testing procedures, there is less incentive for laws to protect said businesses, and more opportunities for legislative change.
When it comes to cruelty to animals in the Criminal Code, pet owners cannot purposely put their animals in harm’s way. However, every single day businesses can mistreat and maim defenceless creatures for a profit. The actions performed by cosmetics companies constitute cruelty to animals as outlined in the Criminal Code and should be recognized as such. Until the legislature reflects this, consumers can speak with their wallets and refuse to continue funding blatant cruelty to animals.
Raechel Mills is a first year law student at the University of New Brunswick.