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Performance Artist Frames Animal-Testing Protest

Police and officials from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shut down a Regent Street cosmetics shop today minutes after a laboratory technician began conducting horrific and painful product testing on a terrified beagle in full view of shoppers and passersby. …

That didn’t happen. After all, no fully evolved human would stand for such a thing. But we do, don’t we? We do indeed, each and every day, by buying and using products whose paths to the marketplace are littered with the discarded carcasses of brutally tortured animals.

In April, on behalf of the ethically committed cosmetics company Lush, performance artist Jacqueline Traide became a test subject herself, undergoing the same kinds of sadistic experiments other species are subjected to so we can stay beautiful.

Performance artist Jacqueline Traide is force-fed by Oliver Cronk. Photo by Mark Large

In an editorial published after the fact in The Guardian, Lush’s campaigns manager, Tamsin Omond, wrote: “(Traide) was hauled on a leash into the window of Lush’s Regent Street shop window. What followed was 10 hours — streamed live — of extreme endurance performance. Jacqui represented an animal test subject for the cosmetics industry. She endured a series of animal tests including forced-feeding, eye-irritancy tests and two (saline) injections but suffered no ‘actual’ pain.”

During a telephone conversation on Monday, Traide told me that she “didn’t really have any involvement in what the tests were going to be, because from my point, I was being a compliant animal. And therefore … knowing what was going to come actually would have been a false performance, so to speak. The fact that it was what I’d call a live act, rather than a performed, practiced, rehearsed stunt, meant that I was in a position where I wasn’t actually involved in knowing what was going to happen and the procedures that (the piece’s artistic director) Oliver Cronk was going to carry out on me. So, from that point of view … there wasn’t anything I could really do to prepare, so to speak. However, I had that morning got into quite a meditative state in which I was attempting to shut down my cognitive thinking capacity and just (trying to) understand it from a very analytic point of view.”

A report in the Daily Mail pointed out that while Traide was being subjected to Cronk’s experiments, “somewhere else in the world, perhaps in a laboratory carrying out tests for an expensive new mascara, a helpless animal was being subjected to precisely the same treatment. The difference was that Jacqueline — publicly humiliated, shivering with cold and nursing the red-raw skin on her cheek — was free to go home when the experiment ended. The animal would have suffered a miserable death.”

During our phone conversation, Traide described what it was like to be a test subject.

Jacqueline Traide is subjected to animal testing in the window of Lush’s Regent Street cosmetics shop in London. Photo by Mark Large

“The performance began and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” she said. “What I did know (is) that … when the procedures were taking place, it wasn’t something that I was just going to potentially sit there and take quietly, you know. To say that there was no pain would be lying. But to say that it was such a painful experience that all my reactions were a response to a painful procedure would also be untrue. … My reactions that did occur, which caused, I guess, the most damage, were my own actions — itching from the cream that was put … on my face. I began to bleed and what was really interesting was at that point, that’s when I began thinking about it and I realized, ‘I need to put my hand down and stop doing this.’ So … what was interesting for me was to see an intuitive tendency to react to the cream or to one of the procedures and my — I suppose the human capacity — to actually stop myself within that. So I guess (what) was quite an interesting point within the performance was to notice (that) my own reactions were in fact potentially more detrimental than what was actually going on.”

Here, it’s important to reiterate the Daily Mail’s point that Traide “was free to go home when the experiment ended. The animal would have suffered a miserable death.”

During my conversation with Traide on Monday, I said, “(Omond) was quoted in that Daily Mail piece as saying, ‘The ironic thing is that if it was a beagle in the window and we were doing all these things to it, we’d have the police and the RSPCA here in minutes. But somewhere in the world, this kind of thing is happening to an animal every few seconds on average. The difference is, it’s normally hidden.’ And Lush’s website points out that ‘if we watch an animal in pain our humanity forces us to care … If that animal is put into a position of pain because of something we did or did not do their suffering is no longer neutral. In some way their suffering becomes our fault.'”

I asked Traide to talk about the “reactions (she) elicited from folks who didn’t appreciate being forced to face their own complicity and how they might have expressed that.”

Jacqueline Traide. Photo courtesy of the artist

“What’s highly interesting to me is,” Traide said, “if you go onto YouTube and you have a look at the comments — I think there’s over 8,000 comments — is the comments that are there have opened up so many different dialogues, not just to do with animal testing … comments that look at torture and abuse. And what I think is really important is that the dialogue is open, that there are people who are in conversation and these things are being talked about. And therefore, if someone wants to go and do more research, then the Internet is out there. Companies that do test on animals … when you do the research then you can find that out quite easily. I think the negative responses are as much (a) part of the process of why this has gone quite far in that sense, because it is something that needs to be talked about. It’s something which … some people are very opinionated about … and some people at first glance might say, “Well that’s absolutely abominable. How can we test on animals?’ But the questions do need to be there. And … any response is a valid response.”

Among those who took umbrage with Traide’s performance was Dr. Chris Flower, director-general of the London-based Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, who was quoted in the Daily Mail report as saying, “It is a pity that Lush chose to run this campaign in a country where the testing of cosmetic products on animals is banned and which has the strictest animal welfare provisions regarding the use of animals for scientific purposes anywhere in the EU. It is a pity the campaign is directed at an industry that has done more than any other to develop and promote the use of alternatives.”

Flower was talking about the European Commission’s Cosmetics Directive, which will be replaced in July 2013 by the Cosmetics Regulation. The legislation, which has been implemented in stages, bans animal testing as it relates to cosmetic products. As explained by language on the European Commission’s Consumer Affairs website, “the testing ban on finished cosmetic products applies since 11 September 2004; the testing ban on ingredients or combination of ingredients applies since 11 March 2009.”

Language on the European Commission’s Consumer Affairs website also indicates that the third and final phase of the European Union-wide prohibition — the “marketing ban” — which regulates the sale of cosmetic products manufactured outside the European Union, “applies since 11 March 2009 for all human health effects with the exception of repeated-dose toxicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics. For these specific health effects the marketing ban will apply step by step as soon as alternative methods are validated and adopted in EU legislation with due regard to the OECD validation process, but with a maximum cut-off date of 10 years after entry into force of the Directive, i.e., 11 March 2013, irrespective of the availability of alternative non-animal tests.”

It should come as no surprise that at least some in the cosmetics industry would like to see the full implementation of the “marketing ban” delayed.

Reporting on Traide’s performance in April, the International Business Times pointed out that “(Lush’s) ‘Fighting Animal (Testing) Campaign’ seeks to force the European Union to implement the Cosmetics Directive, a piece of legislation passed by Parliament that banned animal testing in 1993. For the past 30 years the legislation has been delayed again and again by cosmetic companies.The Cosmetics Directive ban was delayed until 2013, when it will be up for discussion again. EU lawmakers are considering delaying the directive for another ten years.”

I asked Traide what she thinks the prevailing attitude among consumers is, with regard to these regulations.

Jacqueline Traide. Photo courtesy of the artist

“Well I think, for the first part, a lot of consumers don’t know these rules and regulations,” Traide said. “I think part of the sort of materialistic world that we do live in is that consumerism is something which is very passive. … There’s a fair amount of information on a product, but generally speaking, not a lot of people do a lot of research into what they’re going out to buy, whether that’s clothing that has synthetic or natural material in it to products that are or aren’t tested on animals to various different other products. And I think the difficulty, in a way, is that a lot of rules and regulations to do with importing and exporting goods, you don’t see that information on products. So, I’d say that a lot of consumers were quite shocked by the performance and by Lush’s attempt to highlight the animal testing, and hopefully … their interest in knowing where their products come from will … at least become much more important to people.”

Asked to react to Flower’s criticism of Lush’s campaign, Traide said, “Well I think that was very much a response which was coming perhaps from a feeling of attack. Obviously the performance was quite a strong performance. I think also that what he is saying isn’t 100 percent true. We do know that a lot of companies that sell products in the UK may not test directly on animals, but they do fund laboratories that are over in the East … to get information on certain products, and that the big companies don’t have a policy where, if a certain test has been carried out … they can share that with another company who’s looking to use the same chemical or the same process in one of their products. So, I think what’s happened here is that there’s a lot of generalization going on and the finer details aren’t coming through.”

Language on Lush’s website explains that “it is our deep and truly held belief that animals should not suffer for the sake of cosmetics and toiletries. Which is why we also only use vegetarian ingredients in our products. The majority being vegan also. When other cosmetics companies were telling customers that they only test on animals because it is required by law, Lush felt that the best thing to do was to quietly set a different example.”

If Lush can thrive in the marketplace without contributing to the brutal torture and murder of animals, so, too, can other cosmetics companies. Companies that have chosen not to follow Lush’s example have chosen convenience over conscience and complicity over compassion. If we, as consumers, are not prepared to undergo whatever testing we’re told is necessary to keep us beautiful, shouldn’t we choose conscience over convenience and compassion over complicity?

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