Can you buy cosmetic products from China?
Change in law: sell without animal testing in China from 2021?
For cruelty free and vegan indie brands, expanding into China has been very challenging so far. The Chinese law “Hygiene Supervision over Cosmetics” provides for mandatory animal testing on imported cosmetic products. A path that many western beauty brands do not want to take. A recently published change in the law now provides an outlook on a relaxation of this regulation, which in future should also enable animal-free cosmetics to enter the Chinese market. You can read here what changes are expected and under what conditions international brands can already sell in China today according to their values.
Animal testing has been banned for cosmetic purposes in the EU for years. In China, however, they are required by law. In January of this year, the “Cosmetics Supervision and Administration Regulation” (CSAR) was passed by the Chinese state and officially published at the beginning of July. According to Cruelty Free International and many other sources, it should come into force on January 1, 2021 and replace the current cosmetics regulation “Hygiene Supervision over Cosmetics” from 1989.
International beauty brands have high hopes for the new “CSAR” regulation. This does not yet guarantee that imported cosmetics will not be tested on animals, as Kerry Postlewhite, Director of Public Affairs at Cruelty Free International emphasizes. However, it can be assumed that animal testing is no longer mandatory. The speculation comes from a draft regulation published in May 2019 entitled “Measures on the Filing of Non-Special Use Cosmetics” by the NMPA, the National Medical Product Association, whose implementation is highly anticipated. According to this original draft, imported non-special use cosmetics would no longer have to be subjected to animal testing as part of the security check, as long as other requirements are met.
Selling animal-free in China today
Under certain conditions, beauty brands can currently sell their products in China without being tested on animals. The regulations on cosmetic products always refer to mainland China: Taiwan and Hong Kong, as China's special administrations, have their own import regulations that do not provide for animal testing.
In order to market their cosmetic products in China without animal testing, international brands currently have to meet 3 conditions:
- The products must be assigned to the category Non-Special-Use Cosmetics. That includes frequently used products such as shampoo, lotion and lipstick.
- The products must have been produced in mainland China
- Close cooperation with the relevant Chinese authorities is required in order to guarantee that regulatory animal experiments can be excluded
"The animal experiments are not carried out by the companies themselves, but by the Chinese authorities," explains Sabrina Engel, specialist in the field of animal experiments at PETA Germany. "So that they don't do this, a trusting cooperation must ensure that the other two conditions are met." As a result, the certified cosmetics can be sold in Chinese stores as long as the brands outsource part of their production to China.
Another option is to sell directly to end customers. Brands expanding their online business to China can send to China in direct sales. In this way, the products reach the end users without having first come into contact with the Chinese authorities. Online shipping does not count as an import in the strict sense of the word and therefore does not require a prior safety check through animal experiments. Incidentally, this applies to all online retailers who deliver to China, as PETA USA explains. The prerequisite is that there is no additional sales in physical stores in mainland China. These include their own website, Amazon, T-Mall, Alibaba and Co. Sabrina Engel explains: “For sales through physical stores, companies have to register with a government agency, which later triggers animal experiments. However, as long as the brands and online providers do not have physical stores in mainland China, a company does not have to register and is therefore not obliged to have its products tested on animals. "
The legislation is changing
Sabrina Engel is positive about the CSAR announcements. "We are cautiously optimistic that the whole thing can lead to an end to a lot of animal testing in China." While the new regulation will not ban animal testing, it will instruct the National Medical Product Association, NMPA, to formulate specific details that change the testing requirements. As a result, it is expected that non-special use cosmetics imported in the future may also be sold without being tested on animals, even if they were not produced in China. "It is the general expectation and hope that animal testing will cease to exist - but nothing has been committed to yet." There was speculation about similar developments over a year ago, so far nothing of the kind has happened. The increasing pressure from consumers and external companies on the Chinese government emphasizes the need to reduce animal testing in cosmetics. “We are noticing the growing pressure from the population when it comes to vegan cosmetics. China is noticing that too. "
The changes in the legislation suggest that the conditions will be relaxed, but not that they will be waived. The regulation only applies to non-special use cosmetics. Animal experiments will continue to be allowed in China, but will no longer be compulsory. For Special Use Cosmetics there will be no possibility for the time being to be represented on the Chinese mainland without animal testing. These include hair dyes and sun protection products that go beyond everyday care and cosmetic items.
In addition, the new regulation continues to provide for routine sample checks by the authorities of cosmetics already sold in the mainland when security vulnerabilities are reported, as emphasized by Humane Society International. So far it is unclear whether these tests will continue to use animal experiments, which according to the last official document is at least indicated as a possibility. This, in turn, would not allow international brands to sell completely cruelty free in China.
Why we test on animals
The fact that China obliges cosmetic brands to conduct animal tests to ensure safety and health must have an argumentable justification. Dr. Roman Stilling, scientific advisor at Tierversuche-Verstehen.de, answers very succinctly: "You don't need animal experiments (in cosmetics) any more." In his opinion, China's displeasure with alternative test methods in cosmetics is more a cultural issue.
Most of the substances used in cosmetics today are already known. At the same time, modern tests are based on very good alternative methods that make animal experiments superfluous. The one for Dr. Roman Stilling's most important point, which is why we do without animal testing in cosmetics today, is that we no longer want them. “We don't want animal testing for beauty products. We only want to accept animal suffering when it comes to essential health issues and the fight against diseases - but not for a luxury product. " That is why there are laws in Germany and Europe that prohibit animal testing in cosmetics. A parliamentary resolution by the EU even urges the UN to anchor these laws worldwide.
The fact that China has not yet opened up to alternative test methods despite international experience is probably due to the fact that the conventional methods work well and there are not so strong cultural incentives to rethink. At that time Germany experienced great social pressure; in China there has probably not yet been a moral need to abandon tried and tested test methods. From a global economic perspective, however, an alignment would also be beneficial for China. In 2016, Europe excluded the possibility of recognizing test results from animal experiments for the import of cosmetic products. Chinese brands must therefore first use alternative test methods and are not allowed to fall back on their original data. Dr. Stilling concludes: "It is a very laudable move by Europe to create incentives to change cosmetics legislation around the world."
Pay attention to the fine print
Big brands that are already selling cruelty-free in China are Dove, Herbal Essences and OSiS. Like L’Oréal, you have set up your own production facilities in China and thus circumvent the regulations.
At the same time, there are many international beauty brands that plead cruelty free, sell their products in mainland China, but are actually not cruelty free. "Many brands say of themselves," We do not carry out any animal tests ", but knowingly accept that the authorities will do this when importing. As a consumer, you have to read it very carefully and be well informed. "
In addition, there are always rumors from agencies that help international beauty brands establish themselves in China and allegedly avoid animal testing. According to Sabrina Engel from PETA Germany, this cannot be entirely trusted. “What we do know is that cosmetic brands that were not made in China are officially tested on animals. That is the official legal position. We do not know whoever is thinking about ways around here - from the official side there is no other option. "
When the law will finally come into force is a question that PETA Germany is still asking itself. Despite the announcement for January 1, 2021, there is still no official date that can be safely relied on. Sabrina Engels hopes "that it won't take too long because it has been a topic of conversation for a long time." We'll keep you up to date.
Hero Pic with courtesy of Unsplash
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