National Column: Tory senator’s cosmetic test ban a sensible idea

by Thomas Walkom

A Conservative senator wants to ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. That should be an easy ride. It probably won’t be.

Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen’s Bill S-214, which is aimed at cruel and often unnecessary animal tests used in the development of cosmetics, is sensible.

Given that many leading cosmetic brands already avoid animal testing, the ban shouldn’t interfere too much with the constitutional right of Canadians to gussy themselves up.

But it is an animal welfare bill and, as Stewart Olsen says, there are always some legislators who think that any law benefitting non-humans represents the thin edge of a very large wedge that, unless countered, could result in rampant veganism.

“There are some within my own caucus,” the New Brunswick Conservative says.

So we shall see whether Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which has already shown itself skittish on animal welfare issues, has the nerve to back this singularly inoffensive private member’s bill.

In a rational world, few should have any problem with Bill S-214. It doesn’t propose to ban the use of animals in testing drugs and other medications. It doesn’t propose to ban the use of animals in research labs.

Rather it focuses solely on cosmetics. In effect, the bill says it makes no sense to put animals through intense pain just to develop, say, a different brand of lipstick.

And pain there is. One procedure, known as the Draize test, involves immobilizing a rabbit with its eyelids clipped open – sometimes for days at a time – and administering drops of the ingredient under scrutiny. If the rabbit’s eyeball corrodes, the ingredient is deemed too strong.

Another involves force-feeding animals with a chemical until 50 per cent of them die. This is known as the Lethal Dose 50 test – or LD50 for short.

Liz White, of the advocacy group Animal Alliance, argues that such tests are no longer necessary.

First, most ingredients used in cosmetics have already been tested. There is no need to duplicate.

Second, new methods exist that do not require live animal test subjects. Some use human skin grown in laboratories. Another uses the eye tissue from slaughtered cattle.

White says there is no information available publicly on how much animal testing for cosmetics is done in Canada. But given that the domestic industry is small, the answer is probably: not much.

The real effect would be on imported cosmetics. But here too, the effect may be minimal. Stewart Olsen estimates the big international cosmetic firms are already 99-per-cent free of live animal testing.

This may explain why the industry remains relatively sanguine about Bill S-214.

“I’m not sure the cosmetic industry is thrilled,” says Stewart Olsen. But at least, she says, it is not fighting her.

The senator, who at one point in her career was press secretary to former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, says she is no animal activist. Her bill includes an escape clause that would allow the health minister to override the ban under certain circumstances. She says she is willing to entertain reasonable amendments.


But she thinks the overarching goal of doing away with animal testing for cosmetics makes sense.

The 28-member European Union has had a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics since 2013. Stewart Olsen reckons that a similar law here would make it easier for Canadian cosmetic manufacturers to crack the important European market.

Certainly, other countries appear to be heading this way, reports Troy Seidle of Humane Society

Israel has a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, as does India. Australia’s government has just announced plans for a similar ban next year. South Korea, New Zealand and Turkey have enacted partial bans.

Will Canada follow suit? Health Minister Jane Philpott is carefully noncommittal. In response to one petitioner, she wrote that her department supports alternatives to animal testing and “continues to monitor” what is happening in other countries.

But she doesn’t say if she and her government will support Bill S-214.

Certainly, the Trudeau government has not shown itself keen to advance animal welfare issues. It has already signalled its unwillingness to back another private member’s bill, this one put forward by a Liberal MP and designed to overhaul animal cruelty laws.

But perhaps S-214 will be different. Perhaps images of rabbits with their eyes burned out will have some effect.

“I’ve received thousands of emails from across the country,” says Stewart Olsen. She sounds surprised.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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