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What Do Those Labels Really Mean?

API’s Guide to Decoding Product Labels and Testing Claims

Published 10/20/05

Many compassionate consumers rely on product labels to guide them in making ethical purchasing choices.

Unfortunately, labeling can be disingenuous, particularly when it comes to claims regarding animal testing. API supports only those cosmetics and personal care and household products certified by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics.

Here's API's guide to what different claims you may see on labels — and what those claims may really mean.

"Not tested on animals"
"It's true: Our finished products are never tested on animals"
"Our formula not tested on animals"
Companies that do not conduct animal testing on finished products or formulations may still test ingredients on animals.

These above statements may appear on a product label if the final product, not individual ingredients, was not tested on animals. Ingredient suppliers may test specific formulations or ingredients on animals prior to supplying the company.

Without an ingredient purchase policy in place (such as the one from the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics), a company may continue to manufacture and distribute products that contribute to animal suffering.

"People tested"
"Fashion tested"
These simple statements do not address ingredient testing. These claims offer little assurance about the company's policy regarding ingredient testing or the use of contracted, third-party testing data. They merely asserts that "people" were used to test some phase of this product's development.

"No animal testing or ingredients"
This is potentially two different claims.

The first portion of the phrase ("No animal testing...") does not address the question of ingredient testing, as described above.

The second portion ("...or ingredients") might be a reference to the absence of animal-derived ingredients, meaning animal byproducts. ("No animal derived ingredients" is a claim that the product is vegan.) This statement, therefore, may not address the ingredient testing component of the company's manufacturing process. Unfortunately, "vegan" ingredients can be subjected to animal testing.

"Cruelty Free"
This is a very general statement that offers the consumer little practical information.

What exactly constitutes "cruelty free" has yet to be determined. The interpretations could vary: What, precisely, constitutes "cruelty"? Does the claim mean that only the final product was free of animal testing? Or is it a saying that the manner of animal testing used was free from "cruelty"? Does it include claims about non-animal-tested ingredients? Does it mean that the product is free of animal byproducts? There is no simple answer. This claim requires further inquiry.

Appearance of a bunny or icon implying an animal testing policy
Some companies proudly display environmentally responsible or animal-affiliated icons on labels, such as a globes, leaves, rabbits (often in a crossed out circle), dogs, etc. Investigate the icon and find out exactly what it means.

API and the members of the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) support the Leaping Bunny logo. This logo offers the assurance of a company's compliance with the CCIC Standard, which proves that its products and ingredients are not tested on animals.

While many companies continue use to bunnies or similar "natural" icons to imply they have a policy against animal testing, the mere appearance of a rabbit on a bottle offers little assurance of a company's actual policies or practices.

Considering the strong public opposition to animal testing, it is hardly surprising that companies still involved in this cruel practice are reluctant to provide clear and straightforward information about what they really do. A company may employ an icon or statement as a marketing tool to suggest that it engages in responsible, compassionate practices and to encourage concerned consumers to feel comfortable purchasing its products.

"We don't test our products or ingredients on animals"
Cosmetics companies often try to distance themselves from animal testing by having others conduct the testing for them. Tests may be conducted by parent companies, contract testing laboratories, or ingredient suppliers. Companies may claim "We don't conduct test" and be factually accurate; however, they may simply have others conduct animal tests on their behalf, thereby supporting animal suffering.

Any company that is serious about ending animal testing should have a policy in place that ensures that its suppliers are not conducting animal tests on the ingredients it purchases.

"We donate substantial funds to the development of alternative tests"
API welcomes all efforts to develop non-animal-testing methods. Many companies support such efforts through donating to humane research charities or by establishing their own non-animal testing facilities.

Unfortunately, some companies that claim to invest in non-animal alternatives are unwilling to prove their commitment to ending animal testing by continuing to use ingredients that are tested on animals.

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