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PETA pressures Avon to stop animal testing, United States, 1989
The animal rights movement of the 1980’s moved into the mainstream media as it was joined by professionals and academics. The new public attention increased demand from concerned consumers for products developed without animal testing, and companies began more widely using alternatives such as in vitro cell cultures and computer catalogs of known substances.
In 1987, companies used approximately 14 million animals, mostly mice, rabbits, and rats to test different products and use them as subjects in scientific experiments, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was one of the largest and most vocal animal rights organizations in the United States and had approximately 300,000 members nationwide in 1989.
PETA put pressure on the large cosmetic company, Avon, to stop their use of animals in cosmetic testing. Avon had decreased their use of animal testing from 14,500 animals in 1981 to 2,423 in 1987 and were seeking alternatives. Susan Rich, the coordinator of the PETA campaign, recognized the progress Avon had made to move away from animal testing to other alternatives, but decided to intensify the pressure on Avon because PETA thought that, with pressure, they might force them to completely ban animal testing from all of their products. PETA leaders were skeptical of Avon’s commitment to decreasing animal testing because Avon opposed the prohibition of animal testing and lobbied against legislative bans against animal testing proposed in several states. According to Avon’s chief executive and chairman James E. Preston, several overseas cosmetic markets required animal testing, and Avon didn’t want to push countries to change their laws.
By targeting products that were both publicly popular and that were not used to save lives or find medical cures to harmful diseases, namely cosmetics, animal rights activist Henry Spira, head of a New York based animal rights coalition, speculated that PETA targeted Avon to gain sympathy from a wider public audience and generate public awareness of animal rights.
To ensure that PETA continued to phase out animal testing and eventually stop animal testing permanently, PETA members across the nation lobbied Avon employees, and told them about the animal testing practices that occurred at Avon. Many of these employees were unaware of the practice and after finding out, they quit their jobs, putting further pressure on Avon.
Nationwide, PETA members went door-to-door to distribute 3 million door-hangers on homes that read “Avon Killing,” a play on the cosmetic company’s advertising “Avon Calling” to educate the general public on the issue of Avon’s animal testing.
Near the end of February, Friends of Animals and PETA organized a protest outside the hotel in Boca Raton, Florida, where the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (an organization made of 240 members of cosmetic manufacturing and chemical companies) was holding its annual meeting, of which Avon was a part. Protesters called James E. Preston several times in his hotel room and asked for statements regarding the animal testing. Protesters also called representatives from other organizations, such as, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Gillette, who also did not answer the phone calls.
Avon stated in a press release on 2 March 1989, that they expected to stop using animal testing within three months, and planned to stop all animal testing in June. According to a PETA representative, Avon at this point, performed about 10 percent of their tests on animals, and every month they promised to send a letter to PETA stating that they would stop all animal testing within the next three months. The same day, PETA launched an international boycott of Avon products, that would persist until they completely phased out animal testing. They began a petition that received 250,000 signatures from people promising to boycott Avon products.
On 5 April 1989, Avon announced that they would replace the Draize eye testing procedure that involved animals with a method called Eyetex, which was less expensive and performed on cell culture instead of animals. They were the first of the major cosmetic corporations to stop Draize testing. It is unclear whether this decision was a result of pressure from PETA, or whether it was a part of Avon’s plans to phase out animal testing. However, the policy did allow Avon’s raw product suppliers to use the Draize test.
In June, when Avon failed to completely stop animal testing, the company announced that the deadline would need to be pushed back. PETA activists gave James E. Preston a “Pinocchio Award,” a large 10-foot replica of a nose, to symbolize dishonesty. The meaning behind PETA’s award drew on the character of Pinocchio, a wooden boy in a popular children's’ story whose nose increased in size when he told lies.
PETA members and other animal activists planned a protest for 3 June 1989 to decry Avon’s misrepresented deadline. The protest took place at Avon manufacturing plants in Atlanta, Georgia; Suffern, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Newark, Delaware; Pasadena, California; Morton Grove, Illinois; and outside of James E. Preston’s home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. According to Susan Rich, the coordinator of the PETA campaign against Avon, protesters wore Pinocchio noses to pressure Avon to stop stalling and follow through with their statements to completely ban animal testing. PETA also launched a national informational flyer campaign.
In late June 1989, Avon announced that they were permanently ending product safety testing on animals, making them the first large cosmetic company to completely stop cosmetics testing. Avon asserted that pressure from PETA had nothing to do with their decision, and they were already on track to phase out animal testing. After the Avon decision, PETA successfully pressured other large cosmetic industries, including Revlon, Faberge, Noxell Corp., and Mary Kay.