How To Be Cruelty-Free In 2020


How To Be Cruelty-Free In 2020
Happy dog in Mtskheta, Georgia

Do you love animals? Looking for products that haven’t been tested on them? Want to learn more ways to protect them from harm?

The older I get, the more I appreciate animals.

Getting involved in the cruelty-free movement is a great way to turn that appreciation into action.

With companies and their supply chains becoming more complex, shopping cruelty-free in 2020 is challenging, but not impossible.

This article goes over the basics of cruelty-free and how to help stop animal testing.

Table of Contents

  1. The History of Cruelty-Free
  2. What Does Cruelty-Free Really Mean?
    – Difference Between Cruelty-Free and Not Tested on Animals
    – Cruelty-Free and Veganism
  3. Why Are Products Tested on Animals?
  4. How Accurate is Cruelty-Free?
  5. How Companies Secretly Conduct Animal Testing
  6. Alternatives to Animal Testing
  7. The Most Reputable Cruelty-Free Certification
  8. What Can We Do?

The History of Cruelty-Free

The Cruelty-Free Movement is surprisingly young.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was the first organization formed in 1824 to promote animal welfare. Their founder, Richard Martin, helped convict the first person of animal cruelty for beating their donkey.

I’m not surprised because donkeys are super charming.

Cruelty-free was first used in reference to products in 1956 by Lady Dowding, a British Animal Rights Activist. In an effort to bring attention to animal suffering, she convinced fake fur makers to label their products with the phrase, “Beauty Without Cruelty”.

The idea became popular in the US during the 70s, which coincidentally was during the peak of the Environmental Movement.

Cruelty-free may be a household term now, but there’s still much to do when it comes to protecting animals.

What Does Cruelty-Free Really Mean?

Sweet Cat in Kazbegi, Georgia
Lovely cat in Kazbegi, Georgia. Who’d want to hurt this guy?

The most basic definition of cruelty-free is:

“Products manufactured or developed using methods that do not involve animal experimentation.”

This sounds great in theory, but is hard to apply to the real world.

That’s probably why there’s no official governing body to monitor animal testing.

So, it’s pretty easy for companies to claim they don’t harm animals, even without being 100% cruelty-free. There are just too many ways for them to conceal animal testing.

Difference Between Cruelty-Free and Not Tested on Animals

“Cruelty-free” is a more complete definition that means no animals were harmed in the production or development of a product.

“Not tested on animals” only refers to the development part of the equation. It’s still possible that animals were harmed in other steps.

Neither of these terms guarantee that animals weren’t harmed.

For example, milk is considered cruelty-free. But cows can still suffer by being kept in cramped pens and given hormones to produce more milk.

Cruelty-Free and Veganism

Vegans tend to get a lot of flak online for being judgy and even hypocritical. Most of this probably comes from a negative side effect of cognitive dissonance.

I’ve never met a pushy vegan in my life. They have all been understanding of my choices and I try to be understanding of theirs.

I’ve even reduced my meat consumption. It was simple. I just halved the amount of meat in every dish I cook. I call it “Limited Veganism”.

This has made me healthier in every way. It also saves a ton of money, while not decreasing my enjoyment of meals.

Surprisingly, I didn’t even lose muscle mass, since there’s plenty of protein in plants.

You might never go full vegan, but consuming less meat is something everyone can benefit from.

And to be honest, factory farming is a form of animal cruelty to sentient beings.

Pigs are actually cleaner than dogs and only defecate where they live because they’re kept in pens. They’re also the smartest domestic animals.

Cows actually have best friends and get stressed when they are separated.

There’s a lot of disconnect when it comes to how we consume meat, since we never see how the sausage is made.

People will always want to consume meat. But there are better ways for us to produce it.

Fortunately, laboratory meats are on the rise and will hopefully replace factory farming one day. 

In the meantime, a simple reduction in meat consumption will make a huge difference.

It’s easier to convince 10 people to eat less meat than one person to go full vegan.

The benefits would be much greater too.

Why Are Products Tested on Animals?

Wild Iguana in Costa Rica
Wild majestic iguana we encountered in Costa Rica

In the past, testing product safety wasn’t mandatory. It was common to find poisons like formaldehyde, mercury and even cyanide in medicines.

In 1937, Massengill created an elixir to treat infections. Unfortunately, they forgot to test its ingredients before it was sold in 15 states. This led to the deaths of over 100 people with many more getting sick.

The resulting public outrage helped create the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which set strict standards and required companies to test product safety.

Now that companies had to make sure their products wouldn’t kill you, they needed test subjects.

Since people weren’t lining up to try out the latest potential poison, companies chose involuntary subjects.

Animal testing was never mandatory, it was just the path of least resistance.

As for Massengill, they paid the minimum fine and went on to become known for other things.

How Accurate is Cruelty-Free?

Many cosmetic companies advertise their products as “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals”. But what does this actually mean in practice?

According to the FDA,

“The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.”

In other words, these claims aren’t worth a whole lot. Products with a cruelty-free label can still mean the following:

  • Finished products weren’t tested on animals. But ingredients or components were.
  • The manufacturer didn’t conduct animal testing, but subcontracted it to third parties.
  • Products were not tested on animals domestically, but were abroad where animal protection laws are toothless.

Believe it or not, products in China must be tested on animals if they’re sold locally.

If your makeup brand is cruelty-free in the U.S., but sells the same products in China, they’re still responsible for animal testing.

The bottom line is, if a product has “only tests on animals when required by law” on its label, it’s not 100% cruelty-free.

How Companies Secretly Conduct Animal Testing

Doggie in Tallinn, Estonia
Doggie in Tallinn, Estonia. Her name is Tora and she loves playing fetch, except she never drops anything.

The good news is products you find in stores aren’t usually tested on animals anymore.

You might even see “finished product not tested on animals” on their labeling. This is how most companies claim their products are cruelty-free.

The bad news is they are better at hiding it.

So how can a company still use animal testing when they say they don’t?

Raw Ingredients

Ingredient lists seem to get longer every year. And it’s possible that some have been tested on animals. But, if something has been tested before, then it usually isn’t again.

You should be especially wary about new ingredients though. They have a higher chance of being involved in animal tests.

Third Parties

One of the easiest ways companies can be involved in animal testing without admitting it. Third parties can mean many things, including labs hired by government bodies.

China for instance, actually requires animal testing on products sold domestically. As we state a few times in this article, a product is not cruelty-free if you can buy it in China.


Companies can receive ingredients from one or more suppliers. It’s possible for them to test their ingredients on animals without disclosing it. This is especially true when the suppliers are located overseas.

Research Centers

There are hundreds of labs that create ingredient combinations. Most don’t mention whether or not they conduct animal testing. It’s hard to know which research centers do since they don’t often report their methods.

Parent Companies

It’s very common for well-known companies to be owned by larger conglomerates. This makes it possible for the parent company to test on animals, while the subsidiary claims to be cruelty-free.

Profits eventually trickle up to the parent company, which are used for more animal testing.  

Affiliated Companies

This is usually one of two things:

  • One company is a minority shareholder of the other
  • Both are owned by the same parent company

This all may seem overwhelming. No one wants to go to the store and read labels for an hour, and then go online and find out who owns whom.

When in doubt, there are countries that actually ban cosmetic testing on animals.

The EU, India, Israel, Guatemala, New Zealand, Turkey, Taiwan, the UK and Norway are in this group.

The US and Brazil are working on doing the same.

Buying products from these countries increases your chances of shopping cruelty-free.

It takes a little time investment upfront. But once you find a brand you trust, you can stick with it.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

Unfortunately, labels like “we do not conduct animal testing”, “never tested on animals” and even “cruelty-free” are vague since they have no legal definition.

It’s also unethical and thankfully illegal in some cases to test on human subjects.

So, what are our options?

People are creatures of habit. Change can take a long time. Animal testing is often conducted not out of necessity, but because it’s the way things have been done.

The Three Rs, first mentioned in “The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique”, did a lot to reduce animal suffering.

It called for:

  • Replacement with non-animal methods
  • Reduction of number of animals used
  • Refinement to make conditions better for animals.

Building on existing knowledge is another way to avoid animal testing.

Many raw materials were tested on animals in the past. The good news is that their safety doesn’t need to be verified twice.

The EU even lists over 20,000 ingredients that have already been deemed safe.

As technology evolves, we are finding better ways to test products without harming animals or humans.

One alternative to animal testing is human skin donated from cosmetic surgery.

Nearly every type of human cell can also be grown in a laboratory. Cell culture tests use tissue samples for accurate testing environments. And no one has to get hurt.

They can even be used with computer chips to mimic organs, like the heart, kidneys and lungs.

Computer-modeling is also becoming an option and is often more accurate than animal testing.

Testing on animals is no longer necessary, and it’s time everyone knows it.

The Most Reputable Cruelty-Free Certification

Although there is no government body to monitor cruelty-free claims, there is a leading certification with the following criteria:

  • Not tested on animals
  • Doesn’t market goods in countries where animal testing is allowed or required
  • All manufacturers for finished products and ingredients sign declarations that their products were not tested on animals
  • Doesn’t allow use of ingredients that have been tested on animals by a set cutoff date
  • Allows for independent verification that suppliers are keeping their promise with random audits
  • Requires annual renewal to verify continued compliance

This organization is known as the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) and they use the Leaping Bunny as their logo.

If you’re in a rush, checking for this logo is the best thing you can do. But watch out for knockoffs!

They even have a helpful list of brands that meet their standards.

I contacted them regarding a research center that was using their logo without permission, and they were quick to respond and take action.

The scary part is, there are hundreds of these labs that brands outsource to.

And many cruelty-free logos that look like theirs. Checking them all is like herding cats.

It may be impossible to guarantee 100% cruelty-free in a product. But we can reduce animal suffering by being cautious and avoiding blatant violators.

An 80/20 way to reduce animal suffering is to stop buying products from China, since they’re all tested on animals.

What Can We Do?

Chubby Icelandic Pony
Chubby Icelandic ponies before winter

The hard truth is that animals suffer in some form to sustain human life.

Even farming destroys animal habitats.

But we can do our best to minimize their suffering.

Here are some things you can do every day to fight animal cruelty.

  1. Be a conscious consumer by reading labels and double checking ingredients online.
  2. If a product says, “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals”, make sure to check for more proof.
    Remember that these claims have no legal basis and it’s hard to disprove them.
    Like the old saying goes, “trust, but verify”.
  3. Stop using cosmetics and cleaning products with labels that say, “only tests on animals when required by law”. This statement means they’re most likely involved in animal testing.
  4. Check to see if cosmetics and cleaning products have the real Leaping Bunny symbol.
    There is no perfect certification, but Leaping Bunny has proven itself to be the most reliable when it comes to cruelty-free.
  5. Cross-reference the Leaping Bunny logo with their online database when things don’t add up.
    I was able to discover a research center falsely using their symbol with a quick search.
  6. Reach out to companies you are unsure of through email or contact form. Ask them if their brand is cruelty-free.
    If it’s not, tell them to change. If enough people speak out, they have to take notice.
    Capitalism is a democracy of sorts, and your vote counts.
  7. Be wary of “new and improved”. We do love improvements, but new usually means tested on animals when it comes to cosmetics and cleaning products. When in doubt, look it up.
  8. Don’t buy imported products from countries with no animal rights protections.
  9. Don’t buy brands that sell in China. This is a big one, because most major brands do business in China.
  10. Support laws banning animal testing. Here is the latest bipartisan bill that could end cosmetic testing on animals in the US.
  11. Reduce reliance on factory farming, by substituting meat products and lowering your consumption.
  12. Donate to or volunteer at a local animal shelter.
    This is the best way to ensure your effort goes directly to those in need.
  13. Recommend cruelty-free products to friends. But don’t be judgy about it.
  14. Start a blog about animal rights.

There’s no simple way to stop cruelty to animals.

But staying informed and taking action can make a difference.

Let’s be the person our furry friends think we are!

Find out more ways to shop better!


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