Apparently, saying your products aren’t tested on animals doesn’t mean what you might think it means:
…for example a company may say ‘Finished product not tested on animals’ or ‘not tested on animals’, which means the ingredients could well be!
Avon says: “Avon does not test products or ingredients on animals, nor do we request others to do so on our behalf. … BUT they may still buy new ingredients that have been tested on animals, therefore benefiting from animal testing.
So the companies aren’t actually lying on their packaging, but they’re not really telling the whole truth. If you don’t know the full set of denials that would be required to constitute no animal testing, as it would be commonly understood, then you can’t know what they are doing: only what they’re not doing. Clearly that’s an unsatisfactory state of affairs for anybody concerned about animal welfare.
So what’s the real problem? The problem is that the companies who genuinely avoid animal testing don’t have any way to tell us about it. It’s what economists call a ‘signalling’ problem because what they want to tell you–that they don’t test on animals–can be faked by a lot of other companies who do use animal-tested products.
Imagine, for instance, that you have a university degree; that tells a potential employer something about your skill set. The degree is a ‘signal’ of your skills. Now suppose that universities weren’t regulated in any way, so you could get degrees off the internet that were indistinguishable from ‘real’ degrees. Well, now your qualification doesn’t really tell the employer much! Because the degree can be faked, it’s no longer useful as a signal.
That’s a lot like the problem with the animal testing: if anyone can say they don’t test on animals when they’re really doing it in a sneaky way then the statement has no weight. How can you know who’s really animal friendly in their product development? Now comes the really bad part. If it’s expensive to be animal friendly in your development, but you can’t charge more for it because nobody will believe your marketing statements, then how do you stay in business? The implication is that most of the animal friendly businesses won’t survive if they can’t signal effectively.
How can we overcome the problem? Well, some people would point to regulated standards, but a simpler solution is to have some certification procedure much like the SPCA does for free-range eggs. You can tell it works because the SPCA-certified eggs tend to sell for persistently more in supermarkets and still stay in business. Let’s hope something similar springs up for animal testing of cosmetics.