Time to set legal definition for ‘cruelty-free’ to avoid consumer confusion

By Andrew McDougall

- Last updated on GMT

Time to set legal definition for ‘cruelty-free’ to avoid consumer confusion

Related tags: Animal testing, Advertising

University researchers have challenged law makers to set a legal definition for the term ‘cruelty-free’ in order to protect consumers, having found that many misunderstand products featuring these labels.

Many cosmetic companies use the term cruelty-free to attract buyers, giving consumers the impression that no animal testing was used while manufacturing and testing the products. However, that is not always the case.

Earlier this year, Avon, Estée Lauder and Mary Kay were all caught out​ for this particular offence.

Legal standard required

Now researchers from the University of Missouri and Oregon, speaking at the American Academy of Advertising 2012 Annual Conference believe a legal definition for what constitutes ‘cruelty-free’ labeled products should be determined and manufacturers should be required to abide by the legal use of the label.

“Because there is no legal standard for what is and isn’t cruelty-free, consumers are vulnerable to deceptive advertising,”​ said Joonghwa Lee, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

“A company may claim their product is cruelty-free, but there still may be some animal testing done somewhere along the manufacturing process. This could lead to consumers being tricked into buying products that they do not support.”

During their study, Lee and lead author Kim Sheehan, a professor in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, conducted an online survey asking participants about their knowledge of cruelty-free labeled products.

Wide range of definitions

“Participants in our study who recognized the term cruelty-free indicated that they would be more likely to buy products that were cruelty-free and they had much more positive attitudes toward brands that advertised themselves as cruelty-free,”​ Lee said.

“However, once the participants learned the wide range of definitions that exist for cruelty-free products, they found using the cruelty-free designation to be less socially responsible and less safe than they did before learning that information.”

Sheehan and Lee say that because they have shown that consumers are willing to spend money on products that are cruelty-free, even if they don’t understand that those products aren’t always completely free of animal testing, the door is opened for unethical business and advertising practices.

“Our study shows that consumers rely on their own personal moral values to make decisions,”​ Sheehan said.

“If the product information consumers receive is misleading, then they are not able to make important decisions in ways that they would consider morally correct. Creating a legal standard to define terms like cruelty-free will aid consumers in making the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Animal Testing

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