Ban on cosmetics testing boosts animal welfare in India

Legislation reflects change in Indian attitudes yet thousands of starving cows still roam streets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 3:17am

In India, the animal lover's lot is not a happy one.

It may be home to more vegetarians than any other country, but it is also home to pack animals that are worked till they drop, emaciated cows foraging for food and countless stray dogs.

But the animal rights movement is celebrating what it hopes is a shift in Indian attitudes, most recently exemplified in a ban on the testing of cosmetics on animals introduced by the government last week.

Last year, high-profile animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi, helped persuade the courts that it should not be an offence for people to feed stray dogs.

As people learn about what happens in meat and leather production, they are choosing to lead a compassionate lifestyle

"As people learn about what happens in meat and leather production, they are choosing to lead a compassionate lifestyle," said Bhuvaneshwari Gupta, campaigns and nutrition adviser for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India. "As Paul McCartney once said, 'if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian'."

India's drug controller general, Dr G.N. Singh, who announced the ban on animal testing for cosmetics, said that in doing so "for the first time, the Indian government has made a commitment to the welfare of animals".

Globally, 500 companies use the PETA logo to show their products are free of animal testing. "Now it's catching on here, too, with about 15 Indian companies using the logo," said Dr Chaitanya Koduri, scientific adviser to Peta.

Yet for India's beasts of burden, toiling in the fields, life remains harsh. Understandably, their poor owners remain focused on their own survival.

Dancing bears are cited as a particularly shocking symbol of the difficulty untangling cruel practices from economic necessity. Despite being officially banned in 1972, the practice of training bears to dance, by means of a rope tied to a nose ring, has been difficult to stamp out.

"The reason dancing bears lasted for so long was that their owners depended on them for their livelihood. Without income from the bears, their families would go hungry," said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS.

In a highly religious country, inevitably, attitudes towards animals are mixed up with religion. Hindus regard the cow as sacred and will not countenance its slaughter.

Yet millions of cows roam city streets with no-one to feed them. A Delhi vet once removed 3,000 plastic bags from one cow's stomach.

"People don't seem to find it contradictory to go vegan and drink soya milk and eat tofu, but ignore the starving cows at the traffic intersections," said New Delhi journalist Kavita Anand.

But attitudes may now be in flux. Animals rights groups now plan to push for India to ban the imports of cosmetics that have been tested on animals abroad.

They also want India to ban the testing of household products such as detergents and toilet cleaners on animals and are confident of success.