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No federal guidelines for 'cruelty-free' label

February 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Do you look for the words "Not tested on animals" when you buy cosmetics or personal care products? Two new surveys found a majority of Americans say they do. Most consumers say they oppose animal testing and many look for labels that show the product is "cruelty-free." But those labels may not mean what you think.

When you see makeup, lotions and other personal care items that say "cruelty free" and "not tested on animals," what does it mean?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no specific definition, and the website cites "no legal definitions for these terms."

"The Food and Drug Administration has said they will not and do not regulate those terms," said Vicki Katrinak, Coalition Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics. "Therefore companies have free will to say whatever they want, make their own 'no animal testing' claims and have no data to back it up."

The FDA declined an on-camera interview but admits some companies may claim the finished product is cruelty-free.

"It could still be tested on animals," said Katrinak. "The component ingredients could definitely be tested on animals."

How? Through third parties or outside labs they contract with. No cosmetic company trade group would agree to an on camera interview with Eyewitness News about animal testing.

But Nancy Beck, science and policy advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says fewer companies test on animals today because it's unpopular with consumers.

"Many companies are putting big investments into developing new methods that don't depend on the use of animals because of public opinion against the practice," said Beck.

So how do you know if a product is really "cruelty-free"? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Coalition For Consumer Information on Cosmetics both have lists on their websites of companies that they say don't test on animals.

And both organizations license their own "bunny" logos, which consumers can look for on products in the store to help avoid cosmetic claim confusion.

The FDA would not discuss if it plans to regulate the terms "cruelty-free" and "Not tested on animals" in the future.