Hong Kong ban on cosmetic animal tests sought as example to mainland

Anti-cruelty campaigners want city to follow Europe's lead and set example to mainland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 4:35am

Hong Kong should impose a blanket ban on beauty products tested on animals to keep up with the global trends and set an example to the mainland, animal welfare advocates said.

During his visit to Hong Kong to attend a beauty product summit last week, Dr Nick Palmer, director of policy at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said he would like to see the city adopt legislation for "cruelty-free" beauty products to match the European standard.

Animal-tested beauty products can be sold in Hong Kong and only a handful of cosmetics companies label their products as free from animal testing.

In February 2003, the European Union agreed a continent-wide ban on testing cosmetics on animals. The first stage of the ban came into effect in 2009 and the last stage, which is the sale and marketing ban of new animal-tested cosmetics, is due to come into effect next year.

However, the beauty industry warned a ban as such would cost Hong Kong millions or even billions of dollars in lost income if tourists were forced to travel elsewhere or shop online to find the products they want.

Gordon Chalmers, chief operations officer of Jasmin Skincare, an Australia-based organic beauty product company, said the suggested ban might be "ethically correct", but was not commercially viable.

"This would drive tourists out of Hong Kong to do online shopping or to other places like Singapore to buy the beauty products they want," Chalmers said.

The mainland is currently the only country that expressly requires animal testing for cosmetics. But Palmer said alternatives to testing, such as the use of artificial skin and computer technology, provide the way forward.

"In five years time, it will become old-fashioned if beauty companies still do testing on animals. I am sure the companies don't want to be the last to catch up," Palmer said.

"Hong Kong is very important to China as a test for what works in the Chinese context. If Hong Kong can take the first step, [the central government] will feel more confident in introducing [testing bans] in China. So, we would really like to have a dialogue with the Hong Kong government and lawmakers."

His view was echoed by Sandy Macalister, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Macalister said that even though the association was unaware of any testing on animals in Hong Kong, it was important to follow the example of EU and impose a complete ban on animal cosmetic testing, in the interests of raising ethical standards in the region.

The next step should be to ban products that continue to test on animals, Macalister said. He admitted this was not an easy move for Hong Kong, but said the step was "inevitable" as Hong Kong would follow the global trend towards becoming a "truly humane society".

"The truth is that people can no longer claim ignorance," he said. "Previously people didn't now that many of their products were the direct cause of suffering to hundreds of animals, but as knowledge empowers us to make more humane decisions, we can't ignore suffering anymore."

Dr Anthony James, director of Laboratory Animal Services Centre at Chinese University, also supported a legislative ban on animal testing.

"Animal skin is nothing like human skin," James said.