15 August 2011

VegNews Magazine piece endorses animal testing legislation

Many of us are concerned with the animal testing status of our cosmetics and skin care products. Websites like Leaping Bunny have devoted their entire existence to ensuring the public has easy access to cosmetic companies that no longer test their products at any stage of development. How would you feel if this were no longer an option? There is currently legislation that could eliminate your choice for cruelty-free cosmetics, H.R. 2359 (AKA the “Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011,”) now in the House of Representatives, which would require every natural and synthetic ingredient used in personal care to undergo testing (redundant, in many instances) for safety, much of which would be animal-based. H.R. 2359 has inadvertently gained endorsement from a surprising source—VegNews Magazine.

In VegNews’ current issue, July/August 2011, VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen’s article,"Skin Deep," promotes the work and methods of the EWG (Environmental Working Group,) and voices support for their legislation efforts (one failed in 2010, the other introduced in 2011, is H.R. 2359.) H.R. 2359 mandates a myriad of testing for ingredients, and the ingredients of ingredients (e.g. extracts of fruit are comprised of dozens of chemical compounds, and all of these chemicals must be tested,) and there are few non-animal FDA approved options (none for tests like Lethal-Dose 50.) Chen uses H.R. 2359 and the EWG as her sole reference to her article (rife with serious lapses in research,) entirely unaware that the bill would cost hundreds of thousands of animal lives should it pass.

This is VegNews—supposed voice for the vegan/vegetarian community, proponent of the animal rights movement, blithely endorsing animal testing legislation because of poor journalistic standards.

Using animal testing in cosmetics cannot be justified, given the extensive safety data already collected (and easily available with a little research,) combined with decades of safe use by humans—there is yet to be a single person harmed from modern cosmetics or skin care. Worse yet, the animal-based studies that the EWG cherry-picks doesn’t even apply to how natural or synthetic chemicals react with the human body—force feeding animals massive quantities of ingredients used in your moisturizer isn’t going to improve your personal care choices. Yet, the EWG and their H.R. 2359 bill are desperate to convince you that animal testing is a necessity, and that all skin care companies, both small and large, are determined to poison you. Jennifer Chen naively regurgitates these scare tactics—sunscreens are poison and preservatives will give you cancer, and H.R. 2359 is the answer!

In case you’re wondering how easily Jennifer Chen could have debunked the claims of the EWG and H.R. 2359, here are studies conducted on a global scale, from independent medical and scientific committees, refuting their most common fear campaigns used (and perpetuated by VegNews):

American Academy of Dermatology
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York
European Commission for Public Health
EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) Opinion on Parabens
Oxford Journal of Toxicological Sciences
Opinion On Benzophenone-3 (another EU panel regarding oxybenzone)
The American Cancer Society
The Food & Drug Administration
Health Canada, Consumer Safety Branch
Institute for Environmental Toxicology, MSU
Skin Cancer Foundation

OR, she could have given a nod to journalistic integrity and read H.R. 2359 herself. Chen would have realized what a bad idea it would have been to endorse the need for the bill, given its horrific consequences of animal research. The EWG has included a short section encouraging animal testing alternatives; this is meaningless PR given that the bill would only allow the majority of cosmetic companies a year to submit their test results to the FDA. With many categories of toxicity testing without animal testing alternatives, certainly none would draft into law within a year’s time.

The argument that VegNews is using the EWG as a reference (and that Chen is not *really* endorsing EWGs H.R. 2359 legislation) does not hold up. Chen makes it clear that we need H.R. 2359 and groups like the EWG to protect us with statements like, “Beauty companies are not required to release ingredient data.” Except that they are, and do per the General Regulations for the Enforcement of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which even includes sunscreen ingredient regulations (which Chen insists doesn’t exist.) The FDA even offers an easy-to-read breakdown, which specifically applies to cosmetics: Cosmetic Labeling Regulations as Published in Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 701, 740.

At no point in Chen’s article, not even as she builds to her official plug for the Safe Cosmetic Act efforts from 2010 and 2011, does she inform the readers of VegNews of the magnitude of animal testing required by every cosmetic company in the US should this bill pass into law. How would the reader of VegNews know, after reading Chen’s paraphrasing article of EWG scare tactics that they would be supporting one of the biggest animal testing measures in history by supporting this bill? What is arguably worse is that these same readers will likely attempt to convince the cosmetic companies they shop with to support H.R. 2359!

As H.R. 2359: Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 would leave companies no choice but to play a role in animal testing, this would obliterate websites like Leaping Bunny.org, or require them to drastically alter their membership requirements. What can you do? Talk to your favorite skin care company about this measure and make sure they understand the reality of H.R. 2359. Talk to VegNews (good luck, they haven’t been very willing to respond to questions about this measure, or VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen’s decision to endorse legislative efforts of which she knows nothing,) at letters@vegnews.com and ask them why animal testing is suddenly not such a big deal anymore. If you are feeling particularly incensed, send a quick message to the advertisers of VegNews and ask them if they are aware of these shenanigans. Or go to the source, the EWG and their spawn, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics group, and let them know you don’t support their approach, and that animal testing in cosmetics is unacceptable.

If you are wondering about the appropriateness of an organization like the EWG developing legislation of this sort, surprisingly, the founders of H.R. 2359 are social workers and media strategists. Yes, social workers and media strategists are playing “can I has science” on a national level with your personal care products. This is akin to looking to creationists to re-write science curriculums in the United States. Don’t fall for the work of media strategists—keep your right to choose cruelty-free skin care and cosmetics and fight for legislation that makes sense.

Do we need greater oversight of cosmetics and skin care? Absolutely—I agree with the idea of greater transparency for consumers. If a shopper wants to ensure they are buying cruelty free, they should have confidence in these choices. If a consumer wants to ensure their products that bear the “organic” label are truly organic, then this should be a choice made free from a nagging doubt. Whatever your personal care product preferences, you won’t find an argument from me as long as it doesn’t involve needless animal research and impossibly incompetent legislation like H.R. 2359. However, what lobbyist groups like the EWG (don’t believe their Oliver Twist-like pleas for money—the top 8 of that organization are pulling in a cool $1,000,000+ annually, not exactly non-profit salaries,) propose is not the answer. That VegNews Magazine failed to do their research before endorsing such ethically antonymous legislation is nothing short of an utter failure of their existence as a voice for the animal-rights/vegan & vegetarian community.

Read the follow up article: The VegNews animal testing legislation controversy: A response to the response

Nathan Rivas
Nathan is a passionate animal advocate and vegan in the Seattle-area, who lives with a crazed dachshund, an enormous Maine coon and a judgemental short haired black cat. Nathan graduated with a Bachelors of Science (summa cum laude) from Northeastern University. He is preparing for his Masters of Science program in the fall and likes to make jokes that involve the chemical compound arsole (and is totally addicted to gardein).

Photo credit: Screen Capture