What Does Cruelty-Free Mean: Leaping Bunny vs. PETA

With the rise of eco-friendly products and animal rights awareness, more people than ever are trying to support cruelty-free brands and their products. Even if you’re not a vegan, you still want to know what exactly is in your products and that they are made ethically. However, most people would be surprised to learn what does the term ‘cruelty-free’ really means. Is it determined by law? Does the product even have to have all the requirements that you think it should have in order to be considered cruelty-free?


The term cruelty-free was first used in the middle of the 20th century. It was at this time that Muriel Dowding persuaded several fake fur manufacturers to use the label ‘Beauty without Cruelty’, which became a signature for fur products that didn’t use fur from real animals. She later went on to found the Beauty Without Cruelty charity foundation. The term was more broadly used in the 1970s when then group Fashion with Compassion was founded by Marcia Pearson.

There were several worldwide campaigns that promoted animal rights and what would later be known as cruelty-free products. For example, in 1957 W. M. S. Russell and Charles Hulme advocated for reducing the number of animals used for product and medicine testing. This was the first official campaign of its kind. In 1991, the European Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods was founded, and its purpose was regulating the acceptance of alternative methods that would reduce – or completely replace – the use of animals in laboratories. Two decades later, in 2012, several European organizations joined forces in order to promote a complete ban on animal testing. This was the deciding step in the EU banning animal testing for products for personal care.

Today, cruelty-free products are labeled with a leaping bunny. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that there is no government agency that defines the terms such as ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘not tested on animals’, so it’s usually up to the companies themselves to determine what this label means. This is why a lot of people don’t have trust in the ‘cruelty-free’ label and require more in-depth research on the topic for clarification.

In Europe, there are various annual events that promote cruelty-free products and lifestyle. For example, there is the National Cruelty-Free Week in the UK, which is arranged by the Cruelty-Free International group, as well as the National Vegetarian Week and UK Vegan Week. There is even a World Vegan Day, which is held every November 1st.

The cruelty-free label can be used to imply all of these things:

  • The product nor the ingredient hasn’t been tested on animals. This is rare, as most ingredients have already, at some point in history been tested on animals. Also, nothing prevents people from conducting additional tests in the future.
  • The product hasn’t been tested on animals, but some or all ingredients have been.
  • The ingredients or the product haven’t been tested on animals in the past several years (usually a decade or more).
  • The manufacturer itself hasn’t done any animal testing, but uses products that have been, or works with a supplier who tests for them.
  • Animal testing hasn’t been done in your country, but rather in some country that doesn’t have strict regulations, such as China.

Leaping Bunny vs. PETA

If you’ve searched the internet trying to find a list of cruelty-free brands, you might have noticed that there are two lists – one created by the Leaping Bunny, and other by PETA, an organization that fights for animal rights. Perhaps you’ve also noticed that the Leaping Bunny list is a lot smaller. This doesn’t mean that the Leaping Bunny one is incomplete; on the contrary.

PETA requires companies to send them a written agreement stating that both ingredients and the full product aren’t tested on animals. On the other hand, the Leaping Bunny requires additional verification that these claims are true. This means that if the product can be found on the Leaping Bunny list, it is thoroughly checked and verified. In fact, ever since 1990, the Leaping Bunny has been the only third-party, internationally held cruelty free program that has been certified.

According to the FDA, brands can make broad claims about their products because there are no strict mandates on prevention of animal testing in the US, unlike in the EU. While most brands don’t test the final product on animals anymore, this still can’t be said for the ingredients, especially as lot of brands don’t even bother researching the ingredient manufacturer. This is why the Leaping Bunny Program is a good way to certify everything, as they will conduct research to ensure that not a single ingredient or part of the product has been tested on animals. It even has a guide to instruct brands and their parent companies how they can become more ethical.

Keep in mind that ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’, although interchangeable, mean different things. ‘Vegan’ means that the product doesn’t contain any byproduct of animals, such as collagen, carmine, gelatin, honey, or beeswax, while ‘cruelty-free’ means that no animal was harmed during the creation of the products. However, even the vegan label isn’t regulated by the law, in fact, it isn’t even regulated by the FDA. This is why, if you are vegan, you should still check the ingredients of the product with the Leaping Bunny label, as it might still contain some non-vegan ingredients – as long as they weren’t tested on animals. PETA has a list called ‘Beauty without Bunnies’ that offers a variety of products that are both vegan and cruelty-free – but once again, keep in mind that this is claimed by the company itself and most likely isn’t additionally verified.

What are the alternatives to animal testing?

In the age of technological development, there have been many alternatives to animal testing. These alternatives are often cheaper and even more accurate methods of determining the quality and safety of a certain product. Critics would argue though, that these methods are in fact costly and slow to implement, as they can usually test one product at a time. However, so far the alternative has shown mostly positive results.

For example, the Draize test – which has been conducted mostly by placing the researched substance on the rabbit’s skin or eyes – has been replaced by using reconstructed human epidermis, or in other words skin donated from various cosmetic surgeries. This method is more relevant than the previous one, as the reaction of the human skin on a substance is more relevant to us than the one that might happen on rabbits. Also, test-tube human tissue has proven to be a good replacement for Draize tests that were done on animal eyes.

Another good cruelty-free method is using computer-based systems, which can isolate selected tissue and test it in a controlled environment. This is more precise than doing tests on animals and can further protect humans from toxic substances.

And if someone argues that these testing methods are too expensive – they can use some of the over 20,000 ingredients that can be found in the European Union Database, which have already been proven to be safe, without testing on animals.

What can you do?

Until the FDA or some other governmental organization makes strict regulations, there will always be a way for various companies to continue their animal testing. This is why it is up to the consumers to be responsible and act according to their own conscious.

Do your own research. Don’t buy brands that aren’t completely cruelty-free and choose companies that you can trust. If you aren’t sure about a certain brand that is labeled as a cruelty-free, you can always call the manufacturers to ask what they mean by that label. If you can’t afford to buy only the Leaping Bunny products, this can be a good alternative to further check a certain brand. Also, look at whether or not that particular brand is doing anything to promote alternative testing methods that don’t require animal cruelty.

You might think that one person’s shopping decisions won’t change much, but the reality is that a lot of brands have become cruelty-free only after they’ve lost a significant amount of customers. Also, there are various petitions online that urge the government to define and set standards for cruelty-free label, plenty for us to get involved in Each one of us can play an important part in the long run.

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