Saturday 19 July 2014

Testing bans

How far back should any ban on animal-tested products go?

Labour this week promised that, in the unlikely event of its election, it will ban the importation of overseas cosmetics that had been tested on animals. Suppose you agree with the intention of the policy: to reduce and eventually eliminate the testing of cosmetics on animals. Deciding which cosmetics to ban remains tricky.

At minimum, you would want to ban the importing of any products whose development involved animal testing where that testing happened after the ban went into force. We can only really ever affect behaviour in the future, not behaviour in the past, so banning future products that had been tested on animals would be the obvious start.

Suppose you went further back and decided to ban anything that involved testing since Wednesday, when Labour's policy was announced. Perhaps some manufacturers would have heard that this policy could eventuate in New Zealand and might decide to change their development process as consequence. You'd want to have been clear that the ban would apply from today-developed products onwards, but you can still make the case for it.

Going farther back, you start conferring rents on manufacturers who had chosen to veer away from animal testing and to impose losses on those who hadn't. It's possible that these rents could fuel further product development from the no-testing companies, and maybe it's desirable to confer those rents even if it doesn't. But the farther back you go, the more losses you impose on NZ consumers for no plausible gain for today's animals. If it turned out that Chanel #5 involved some kind of animal cruelty when developed in 1920, what possible benefit would come of a ban?

I don't know what the right answer here would be from the perspective of someone against hurting animals, but it seems unlikely that any ban should extend backwards in time all that far. I am curious how Labour would seek to apply this though. Their PDF says any products or ingredients that have been tested on animals would be banned. But it doesn't say anything about whether that applies only to current testing, or to past testing.

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