Entrenched interest groups are impeding the prohibition of animal testing in China. Development of new market entry channels such as CBEC, development of scientific models as alternative to animal testing and reform of China’s regulatory framework are all recent and important milestones on China’s and the globes march towards cruelty free cosmetics.
Now things are changing and the government is easing some of its requirements.
Here's what's going on and what it could mean for foreign beauty brands.
Why is Animal Testing Required in China?
In many cases, animals are forced to swallow toxic ingredients or have them dripped onto sensitive skin parts such as their eyes.
Animal testing is required in China because there are many instances of shoddy-quality and fake cosmetics products, particularly when it comes to imported goods that can be marked up at a higher margin.
The United Kingdom banned animal testing for cosmetics products in 1998, and many countries in the western world have followed suit. Now testing labs use artificial skin or human cells, and oftentimes they are more precise.
- Animal testing generates jobs and revenues - brands have to pay animal testing labs, who employ large numbers of technicians.
- Investing in testing R&D costs money. China’s testing labs also operate in a highly fragmented, low-margin industry, which makes it difficult to invest in R&D for new testing procedures. Labs need to spend time and money on training and certifications before having new procedures approved by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration.
- There is less consumer awareness of animal cruelty. And in some cases, consumers would rather have the products be tested on animals than themselves. This is partly because there have been many cases adverse reactions in consumers attributable to toxic, counterfeit or adulterated cosmetics products in China.
This is What Happens When Brands Do Animal Testing
But these large players have moved some of their manufacturing to China, and some products such as shampoo and body wash do not have to undergo animal testing to be sold.
NARS Cosmetics was boycotted by many fans worldwide after it announced that it would engage in animal testing to sell products in the China market. Fans launched protests all around the world to express their disappointment.
M.A.C, which is owned by Estee Lauder, has also been called out for animal testing. However, Estee Lauder is training the testing lab industry on new forms of non-animal testing and lobbying key stakeholders to change the industry conditions. They claim that their large presence in the market gives them the influence needed to change the industry.
What’s New This Year?
In April 2019, China approved two new non-animal testing methods for the regulation of cosmetics ingredients. Now China has nine approved animal-free tests.
Such tests apply for cosmetics ingredients but not final formulations. China still requires foreign cosmetics companies to consent to have their products tested on animals.
In May, the government was debating the passage of The Administrative Measures for the Filing of Non-Special Use Cosmetics. If passed successfully the cosmetics and bring the regulation of imported non-special use cosmetics in line with domestically made Chinese products.
The Road Ahead
In the meantime, brands can consider selling to the China market through cross-border e-commerce, a direct-to-consumer trade channel that does not require animal testing. Brands can ship from overseas warehouses, Hong Kong warehouses, or bonded warehouses in China free trade zones.
This channel is still relatively small and many brands are unaware of this option. But it is becoming a more and more popular channel as China's e-commerce law cracks down on daigou resellers.
The government is encouraging more foreign brands to sell to Chinese consumers on cross-border e-commerce channels such as Tmall Global, as indicated in its recent lowering of postal import taxes.
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