An end to testing of cosmetics on animals in South Africa proposed

15 January 2018

In what animal welfare activists will regard as long overdue step, Parliament has published draft amendments to the Animals Protection Act and to the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, the effect of which will be to outlaw the testing of cosmetics on animals in South Africa.

The amendments also propose to criminalise the manufacture and sale of cosmetics tested on animals in South Africa. It’s a small step because the testing of other substances (for example, medicines) on animals will still be permitted, as will the import of cosmetics tested on animals in other countries. The Bill does at least empower the national agriculture Minister to set standards for testing of substances other than cosmetics and also contains provisions intended to improve the conditions under which laboratory animals are kept.

Apart from introducing these important new provisions, the Bill also aims to give the Animals Protection Act more enforcement “teeth” by making the penalties for contravening the Act more relevant (the maximum fine for conviction in respect of an offence under the Act is now R40 000 whereas before it was just R4000. The maximum sentence in terms of imprisonment has been increased from one year to ten years).

It also extends personal liability for offences under the Act to company directors and officials who knowingly contravene the Act. This may prove to be particularly useful in enforcing the ban on cosmetic testing on animals. At the very least it should be a strong deterrent to companies who are tempted to flout the ban. Recognising that an animal which has been the object of an offence is vulnerable while the matter is decided in the courts, the Bill also proposes that  when a person is charged with an offence under the Act, the court hearing the matter can make interim orders to safeguard the welfare of the animal concerned. These might include an order that the animal be handed to the NSPCA, treated, sterilised or even euthanased, where keeping it alive would be cruel.

A general overhaul of the Animals Protection Act is very long overdue. The Act was originally passed in 1962 and hasn’t been amended at all in the last 20 years.

The rationale for the proposed amendments, set out in an Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, makes reference to the recent series of Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court judgements that recognise that “animals are sentient beings that are capable of suffering and of experiencing pain” (further information here). The Memorandum goes on to suggest that “[a]culture of caring for and protecting non-human animals has significant benefits for the wellbeing of a society. Indeed, studies have shown that efforts to reduce cruelty to animals, are likely to reduce the tolerance that communities have for interpersonal violence.”

All in all, the proposed amendments should offer animals greater protection from human cruelty. Earth rights activists would perhaps feel that the real issue has still not been addressed, which is of course that, as Cameron J has put it “[t]hough animals are capable of experiencing immense suffering, and though humans are capable of inflicting immense cruelty on them, the animals have no voice of their own. Like slaves under Roman law, they are the objects of the law, without being its subjects.”

- Sarah Kvalsvig

Sarah is a Consultant at Cullinan & Associates and serves on the Board of Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary.

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