What does cruelty-free mean? Is it vegan?

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It’s a phrase that is used far and wide, but what does cruelty-free actually mean and how does it relate to vegan lifestyles, if it even does at all?

You’ll be forgiven for assuming that vegan and cruelty-free go together as a matter of course, but one can exist without the other. Despite those that define themselves as vegan, actively only choosing to support cruelty-free companies, there is no guarantee that all finished products on sale will be free of animal-derived ingredients. In short, vegan-friendly products will all be cruelty-free, but not all cruelty-free items will be vegan.

Which industries use cruelty-free labeling?

what does cruelty free meanTypically, beauty products and food and drug consumables, if applicable, will be highlighted as having been assessed by Cruelty-Free International, in accordance with the Leaping Bunny Program.

A symbol recognised throughout the world thanks to extensive use in shopping guides — as well as on everyday products — a leaping bunny indicates that something has not been tested on animals anywhere in the world and that ingredient suppliers have also negated cruelty in their processes. Essentially, to be classified as a leaping bunny compliant company, an organisation needs to not conduct, commission or pay for any form of animal testing at any point in its supply chain.

Who still requires animal testing?

cruelty free cosmeticsThe list of countries still allowing animal testing is shrinking every year, with Colombia announcing a blanket ban on both manufacture and import of cruelty-based products in 2020. Though this is progress, in order to sell any final product in China, it is required by law that the item has been tested on animals and given the commercial largesse of the country, this means that there is still a lot to be done.

Vegans in China are subject to extreme frustration as they have no easy access to cruelty-free products, meaning that they often have to resort to online shopping that carries expensive shipping costs. Chinese officials claim that animal testing is still a necessity to guarantee product safety, but this is being disputed. According to reports, by the end of 2021, all “ordinary imported cosmetics” will no longer be subject to pre-market animal testing. If this happens, it will be a giant leap forward.

More surprising than China’s continued subscription to animal testing is the fact that Canada has yet to implement a ban on the practice. Making it harder for plant-based north Americans to choose cruelty-free, this is a widely criticised move, with polls suggesting that up to 90% of consumers would support a ban.

Why aren’t all cruelty-free products vegan?

vegan and cruelty freeThis is a question that plenty of people ask. The link between the two seems natural and almost implied, yet a Leaping Bunny mark is no guarantee of an item free of animal derivatives. Beauty products are particularly susceptible to having not been tested on animals, but still comprising of ingredients that make them unsuitable for vegans. This is why specifically plant-based makeup and skincare companies are filling a much-needed niche.

Remember that cruelty-free products have not been tested on animals, but could contain ingredients made from them.

Amy Buxton
Amy Buxton
Amy is a committed ethical vegan, raising a next generation compassionate human with her husband and their beloved dog, Boo. A freelance writer with a background in PR, she decided to use the COVID lockdown period to refocus her client base and has come to The Vegan Review as a senior writer and editor, before moving into her external content director role. "What we should be doing is working at the job of life itself" is Amy's mantra, courtesy of Tom from The Good Life.