While researchers seek alternatives to animal testing, another kind of option has sprung up: ``cruelty free'' cosmetics and household products. These are lines of goods that claim an absence of any animal-derived ingredients and any testing on animals. Some well-established ingredients, however, may have been tested on animals years ago but are no longer.
``There's no way to prove ingredients have not been tested on animals'' in the past, admits Ethel Thurston of Beauty Without Cruelty USA, a clearinghouse for such products, in New York City.
Her organization's goal, she says, is simply to list companies whose formulas are not being tested on animals now. Questionnaires are regularly sent to companies to check on their procedures.
The current list includes some 60 companies, both individual manufacturers and mail-order houses. It's regularly updated to be sure that no animal-tested products ``sneak in.''
Interest in ``cruelty free'' products appears to be growing, but Dr. Thurston cautions that clear trends are hard to establish, since no marketing research has been done.
``Some stores say they've had a big increase in sales, some not,'' she says. But Beauty Without Cruelty does get ``hundreds of inquiries'' each week from people interested in the products, she adds.
The primary outlets for these products -- which run the gamut from shampoo to toothpaste to cleansers to shaving cream -- are health-food stores. The products can be found in most major US cities, according to Thurston. Beauty Without Cruelty has affiliated organizations in Great Britain, South Africa, and other countries, she says.
John McArdle, director of laboratory animal welfare for the United States Humane Society in Washington, feels that ``humaneness'' has the potential of catching on as a marketing concept. There's a growing market for ``cruelty free'' products in the animal rights community itself, he says.
Until the ``cruelty free'' products are more widely available, concerned shoppers can adopt some interim tactics, says Dr. McArdle. For instance, he suggests that consumers be alert to ``new'' or ``improved'' labels. New ingredients have almost always been tested on animals, he says.
Other common product labels, such as ``hypoallergenic,'' probably indicate that some animal testing has been done, according to Dr. Heinz Eiermann of the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Cosmetic Technology. Page Blankenship of the Cosmetics, Toiletries, and Fragrance Association says that's not necessarily the case -- that the label can just mean that no known allergenic substances have been used.
``Deal with old established brands'' that came on the market in the early part of the century, before animal testing was done, McArdle suggests. Finally, use tried-and-true ``old home remedies'' -- like ammonia and water for cleaning jobs.
Such advice isn't likely to sweep the marketplace. McArdle's message is simply that the consumer already has some alternatives.