Organic Beauty Week….and my vow to go Cruelty Free

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For the longest time I’ve been planning to write about this. Early last year I made a vow to go ‘cruelty free’ with all the cosmetics and cleaning products I buy, in-line with my rules on the animal products I will and won’t eat. It’s taken me until now to really feel like I’ve got the hang of it though, because of the ridiculous rules on labelling (or lack thereof!), misleading claims, and generally struggling to decide what my absolute rules were. But because I feel I’m finally in a position to share my thoughts on this, AND because it’s Organic Beauty Week, I thought I’d get down to writing up some of my experiences.

As I’ve tried SO many products, I figure I’m best writing about each ‘category’ separately, so that I can share a more comprehensive review for the things I would (and wouldn’t!) recommend. For now though, I thought I’d share the basic principals of what I decided to do.

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My reasons for going cruelty free were nearly completely to do with animal welfare. It’s true that there are personal, human gains to be made by choosing better products of course, and there are certainly environmental benefits….but we have to pick our battles, and for me it’s all about the animals. As far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse for mistreating animals. We’re not more important than them, and even if treating them cruelly is the ONLY way to get that amazing lipstick, I just can’t see how that can be a fair trade off. Besides, many companies use human testers to check the safety and quality of their products, instead of animals….and certain products don’t even need testing because they’re created from all natural ingredients. So why should we support companies who needlessly torture our defenceless, animal friends?

In short, I strongly feel that animals are not ours to treat however we like for our own gain.

In Europe, as of March 2013, a new law was implemented that made it illegal to sell animal-tested cosmetics in Europe, even if the testing was done outside Europe. The result has been a boom in investment in non-animal testing methods, with many major companies turning their backs completely on animal testing. A number of animal tests have even been completely replaced with superior, cheaper and more effective non-animal methods.

This is of course great news, but it’s not all that simple and rosy….in fact, in some ways, it makes it even trickier for us consumers!

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Although companies are no longer allowed to sell animal-tested cosmetics here in Europe, they *can* continue to test cosmetics on animals outside Europe and sell them in other markets. This means a company that sells here can still profit from cruelty to animals…just not in Europe. The problem is exasperated because many large emerging markets, actually have laws that say cosmetics *must* be tested on animals before they can be sold there. So, you could be buying a mascara that isn’t itself tested on animals, but from a company that *does* test on animals….and therefore supporting their cruel practises and adding to their profit.

And as if that doesn’t make things tricky enough, some companies who label themselves as ‘cruelty free’ have sold out to larger companies who certainly are not….which I personally think is even worse! I like to write positive things, and certainly don’t want to advertise any companies who I believe are bad (*cough*), but you can find lists online to help you avoid them (more on that later).

There is also the matter of animal *products* in cosmetics. Again, this is not essential, and so I would largely argue that all cosmetics ought to be vegan. The exception (as far as I’m concerned at least) are products that support the environment and the protection of certain creatures… Neal’s Yard for example have an organic honey-based collection and campaign called ‘Bee Lovely‘ which raise funds and awareness to help save our declining bee population.

So… with that in mind, here are my own *personal* rules. They’re by no means permanently set, and in fact have been slowly evolving since I decided to do this…..

  1. First and foremost, I don’t want the cosmetics and household products I buy to be tested on animals.
  2. Secondly, I don’t want to buy anything which contains any ingredients that are tested on animals. This includes make up, beauty products, laundry products, household cleaners and gardening products.
  3. Ideally, I want to buy things which have *never* been tested on animals, however in certain circumstances I will buy products that contain ingredients with a ‘Fixed Cut Off Date’ as I feel that this can send a message to companies that I want them to make a move towards non-animal testing.
  4. I will not buy cosmetics or household products from companies who are owned by a company that tests on animals, even if they do not test their products or ingredients themselves. As far as I see it, I’d be helping the parent company to make a profit and therefore supporting their cruel practises.
  5. Mostly I’d prefer to buy vegan products (ie. that contain no ingredients derived from animal products), but I will make exceptions for ingredients that have been responsibly sourced, especially if they promote the safe and cruelty free increase of declining populations.
  6. I’d prefer to buy from cosmetic companies that only sell vegan products, and I will definitely not buy from a company who sells animal-tested products, even if the product I’d like to buy hasn’t been tested itself.
  7. I will vote with my feet….supporting brands that I feel are making a concerted effort and ditching those that I think are not.
  8. But I won’t waste and throw away any unfinished products that I bought before setting these rules, or that I purchased in good faith according to these rules (and subsequently found that I’d been mislead!)….I see this as a terrible waste of resources and having to replace all my makeup, beauty and laundry products and household cleaners all in one go would have been impossible!

That’s my list for now, but I’m sure it will continue to develop as I learn more and more. It can be really hard to find out whether a product meets these criteria, so I try not to beat myself up about making mistakes along the way….things change rapidly, companies are sold off, others change policy or start to sell in different countries…it’s a minefield, but I’m trying my darnedest and that’s all I can do!

If you feel you’d like to make a similar vow, I would advise you to check your products thoroughly before going shopping. It’s time consuming and infuriating, and sometimes you just want to buy on a whim, but largely it’s the only way to be sure what you’re buying really is cruelty free. The Soil Association’s Campaign for Clarity highlights just how ambiguous labelling has become, and it really is important to use several tools to check before you buy. Here are some resources I’ve found good to use holistically:

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The ‘Leaping Bunny‘ is probably the label you’re going to see most in your quest to find cruelty free products, and you’ll find it on cosmetics as well as household products. The label is issued by Cruelty Free International, and you can read their criteria on their website. Basically though, companies displaying this logo must guarantee that no animal testing takes place on their products or the ingredients these products are made up of, after a fixed cut-off date. They must also actively monitor their supply chains, obtaining yearly assurances that no animal testing has been conducted after this fixed cut-off date, and agree to an independent audit of their supplier monitoring system.

They have a helpful product search on their website too, as well as PDF lists which I like to save in my phone so that I can check on some things on the go.

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PETA also issue their own ‘cruelty free’ bunny logo. Their website offers a search facility too, and you can also view lists of companies who *do* test as well as ones that don’t, which I find useful (although depressing at times!). All companies that are included on PETA’s cruelty-free list have signed PETA’s statement of assurance or submitted a statement verifying that neither they nor their ingredient suppliers conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals for ingredients, formulations, or finished products. Companies must pay a license fee to use the bunny logo though, in addition to meeting these criteria. Oh, and there’s an additional logo in the same style which also states if a product is vegan too.

Unlike the Leaping Bunny, PETA does not conduct audits of company facilities, instead relying on the fact that companies are putting their integrity on the line.

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The International Vegan Trademark can be seen on all sorts of products, and is well regarded as a pretty stringent benchmark. In order to use the logo a company and its products must not involve, or have involved, the use of any animal product, by-product or derivative. Furthermore, the development and/or manufacture of the product, as well as its ingredients, must not involve, or have involved, “testing of any sort on animals conducted at the initiative of the manufacturer or on its behalf, or by parties over whom the manufacturer has effective control”.

Other logos can be helpful, such as the Soil Association’s organic logo (because their criteria also include animal welfare) but do be careful as there are a myriad of misleading labels out there. There is no international regulation to rely on and many companies will make claims such as ‘Not Tested on Animals’ on their packaging, when in fact they do. I’ve taken to typing the name of a brand into a search engine along with the words “animal testing” to throw up useful information, and have also found this helpful guide to reading packaging, and avoiding being mislead. Another good thing to do is to write to any company you’re unsure about….this will help put your mind at rest and sends a message to them that animal welfare is something they ought to think about.

As I say though, you have to do a lot of sleuthing as things change so rapidly and many companies will make claims that are heavily misleading. I’ve found a load of useful posts on personal blogs though, often by people like me who share information they’ve found and review products that are worth trying. You simply can’t take for granted that the products you use every day are not tested on animals though, sadly, and in my opinion we consumers have a responsibility to think about what we’re buying and send a clear message to companies that animal testing is not acceptable.

I hope this has all been helpful, and has encouraged you to think about going cruelty free. It’s good to remember that it takes time to get things right, and that there is a steep learning curve to follow, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it all figured out right away. Decide on your own personal standards, work on one product at a time, and enjoy trying new things. And as a reward for making it through this rather lengthy post, here’s a baby rat picture for your enjoyment….

Ems x

 

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N.B. My posts always reflect my own, personal views. All information here is written to the best of my knowledge, but is certainly not exhaustive. I’m always delighted to hear the views of others, and to continue learning, so please let me know if you have anything to add!

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Blog Every Day in May: Food Glorious Food!

“Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!”

Whilst I was tempted to use this opportunity to share a recipe or restaurant recommendation, as I’ve been meaning to write about the way I eat for, like, ever, I thought I really ought to do just that! I touched on this yesterday in my Go Green post, but today I’m going to tell you all about my being (a rather ponsey sounding) Ethicurean.

I’ve always loved my food. I like to eat lots, eat well and then eat more. I used to be fussy as a child but my Mum did spoil me with really good home cooking (her roast dinners and pies are to die for!) but once I moved away from home I got to being more adventurous and now there’s hardly any type of food I won’t eat. If any. And Marmite isn’t a food by the way.

And whilst I toyed with the idea of vegetarianism as a teen, I’ve always happily enjoyed eating meat and animal products. Until about five years ago.

It was a TV show that changed my views on how I ate. Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Channel Four, and the associated Chicken Out campaign spearheaded by the marvelous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, offered an insight into the terrible standards in British chicken farming, and it alarmed me horribly. I very quickly decided that I would only eat free range chicken and free range eggs, as well as avoiding foods with eggs in (later it would become easier to find pasta which uses free range eggs, and when Hellman’s announced all their mayo was going to solely use free range eggs I think I cheered!). I was horrified how chickens were being treated, to get their eggs and to breed for their meat, and I just couldn’t stomach a meal that supported or encouraged that.

The following year there appeared another programme. Jamie was this time going to ‘Save our Bacon’ and in his TV show (also featuring the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) he revealed the desperately poor state of pig farming. I was beyond horrified this time. I remember crying and vowing never to eat meat again. I remember the cries and shrieks of pigs being pushed around between vile metal bars, and wondering how any person could do such a thing.

I very quickly went off my food entirely, and gave up meat altogether for a few months. I felt responsible for those poor suffering animals, and ashamed that I had supported an industry that could allow such abhorrent behaviour.

Once I’d had time to absorb all this though, I really did come to the decision that as a human being and born omnivore, I would like to try at eating meat again, and should be able to if I was mindful. Whilst the farming that I’d seen in the programmes disgusted me to the core, I knew that there were farms out there who care about their animals, and I wanted to support them. And at the end of the day, if we were all vegan there would be massive economic ramifications, not to mention a lack of lovely fields filled with sheep and cows and whatnot!

I knew though that if I was going to go back to eating animal products, that I had to be as sure as I possibly could be that I wasn’t eating any of those poorly treated animals. That meant an holistic approach…not just eating whatever free range meat I could find, but also being mindful of all the other animal products hiding in all manner of foods.

I personally don’t see the point in vegetarianism for this reason, unless you’re just veggie because you don’t *like* meat of course! I find pescetarianism even more baffling, not to mention people who call themselves vegetarian and eat fish! I know I won’t make any friends by being this opinionated, but I do feel very strongly about this….if you won’t eat meat because of the impact on animals and their environment, why will you eat animal products (I have known SO many veggies who will eat cheese with rennet, Worcestershire sauce, and sweets containing gelatin!!) that have probably come from just as bad a process of welfare, if not worse?! Loads of things contain animal products, and although it’s a bit of a minefield, I have certainly been able to adapt very well to this mantra.

The biggest impact it’s had is on the amount of meat I eat. Whilst I do believe humans should eat meat, I don’t believe we need it with every meal! A common excuse I hear for not eating more welfare conscious meat is ‘I can’t afford it.’ My simple answer is ‘eat less meat then’. I manage just fine on one or two meat meals a week (although sometimes less) and so having cut my meat bill in half, I can afford to spend twice as much on the meat I do buy. Simple! There are so many healthy, easy, quick and yummy dishes to make without using meat, so I just don’t buy that particular excuse!

Another big thing is eating out. Whilst ten years or so ago it was quite normal to be vegetarian, I rather feel that it’s gone out of fashion of late! I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve gone somewhere to eat out and been offered only one very poor vegetarian ‘choice’ (it’s not a choice if there’s only one!!). And often the veggie dishes are totally bland, not worth the money and incongruous with the rest of the menu…I feel like there ought to be a vegetarian and vegan module at catering college as most chefs clearly lack in imagination for such dishes!

And whilst you’d expect by now that lots of restaurants would have taken on board a free range and/or organic animal product policy, even the likes of Jamie Oliver himself seem reluctant to commit! (NB. I can find no evidence that Jamie’s Italian restaurants for example serve free range meat….I have contacted them though to check and will update when I get a response!)

The result of this is that we don’t often eat out, which is a shame as we’d like to support our local restaurants, but when my choices are limited so pitifully and I’m asked to subsidise meat eaters by paying the same for my curry with no meat in it as someone’s exact same curry but packed with lamb, I’m afraid I’d just rather eat at home!

Another thing that’s been tricky is actually knowing when a product meets my decided standards. I’ve spent hours researching all the criteria that give a product free range or organic status, and whilst I can rest relatively easy if something is marked as such, there are so many other confusing labels that it becomes a real pain! Most of our friends and family  know that we eat this way, but unfortunately they are very often taken in by the sneaky marketing the supermarkets have come up with to make people feel better about buying certain things, whilst still remaining competitively priced.

I am often told (when I ask politely in a restaurant if the dish is free range and/or organic) ‘yes, it’s British’. ‘Aaaand???’ I’ll say….that’s just where it comes from!!! Unfortunately ‘British’ doesn’t mean the same as free range or organic…and neither does ‘Freedom Foods’, ‘RSPCA Monitored’, ‘Red Tractor’, ‘Outdoor Bred’ or ‘Outdoor Reared’. And whilst Waitrose and Sainsburys are fairly good, just buying any meat from them doesn’t mean it’s free range either! I’m often unsure as to whether I’m more cross with people for being sucked in by these labels (if it was Organic, don’t you just think they’d call it that rather than coming up with a new name for it?!) or with the people who make them up to try and fool us. Either way, I would certainly welcome some legislation to stop this misleading rubbish!

Probably the best impact this has had on me though is my health. Too much meat isn’t good for you, and ensuring you have a well balanced diet (which I’m now more mindful of) is the best anyone can really be expected to do for themselves. Because I have to think about all animal products, I don’t eat a lot of processed food because I can’t be sure where the animal products in them come from, and we now eat organic dairy products to have the best chance of supporting the right kind of farming in that respect (it’s not all about meat!).

I now appreciate where all my food comes from, I’m knowledgeable about it and I care.

Now you’re either thinking ‘what a goody bloody two shoes’ about here, or ‘she can’t possibly stick to that!’ And you’re possibly right on either count….I do feel a bit smug that I put so much thought into my food, especially because I have given up things that I really love to eat (if someone opened an all free range KFC tomorrow I would eat nothing else for a month…don’t judge me!)….and I don’t want to mislead anyone by claiming that I am 100% virtuous. I do slip up from time to time, eating sweets offered to me without checking what’s in them, and allowing myself a little leeway when on holiday for example. I’m no Saint, but I do try bally hard!

I hope I’ve not come across as too aggressive in this…I’m aware this is not my usual happy post about bunting or glittery shoes…but I do feel extremely passionately about animal welfare and I’ve been very glad to have this push to finally get me to talk about it!

Now, at risk of tipping over the aggressive line, I’m going to share a video that I personally think it’s important for anyone who eats non-free range meat to watch, in order to understand where their food can come from. I can appreciate that this is very extreme and that it will more than likely upset people, but I just feel that one shouldn’t eat something they don’t know the possible origins of. Needless to say, this comes with a personal warning and I’d ask anyone particularly sensitive or anyone vegan not to watch it. I’m not sharing this because I want to upset anyone or preach to them. That said, I think it’s jolly important that such reports are made and that people are aware:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TFdHAnpTYI

Ems x