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Is “Cruelty-Free” Truly a Label Free of Animal Cruelty?

On March 24th, Netflix released a new documentary titled Seaspiracy that aims to educate viewers on the environmental impacts commercial fishing has on our planet. Although I’ve been vegan for about eleven months now, I was floored by the amount of marine degradation that is caused by commercial fishing.

Beach litter
Photo by Lucien Wanda from Pexels

However, I won’t necessarily be talking about Seaspiracy or most topics covered in it. I encourage you to watch the documentary and find out for yourself! After watching the documentary on Sunday, I thought a lot about the “Dolphin Safe” labeling, and how there is no true way to guarantee that dolphins are actually unharmed during commercial tuna fishing. I’d like to list two terms below just so we’re on the same page before we go any further.

Cruelty-Free: If a product is Leaping Bunny certified, this means that this product or the ingredients in it have not been tested on animals.

Vegan: If a product is certified vegan, this means that this product contains no animal-derived ingredients. Vegan products are never tested on animals.

White pig, a little muddy
Photo by Mali Maeder from Pexels

So… what’s the purpose of bringing this up? In short, is a product really “cruelty-free” if it has animal products in it? If I’m being completely honest, no. The term “cruelty-free” is kind of an umbrella term–similar to “sustainability.”

If you go grocery shopping and typically buy animal products, you might notice that some packaging says “sustainably sourced,” “cage-free/free-range,” or “grass-fed.” What exactly does this mean? Does this mean that the animals live happy, or happier lives?

The short answer: no. Let’s look at the Fairlife (Fair Oaks Farms) company. I mean, the name itself insinuates that the cows are happy. But, take a look at the abuse endured by the dairy cows living at Fair Oaks Farms in 2018.

Family of brown cows in a barn
Photo by Vinicius Pontes from Pexels

Labels and brand names, such as Fairlife, are often misleading. “Sustainably sourced” salmon are still farmed and caged — they aren’t individually caught by the quirky Steve Zizzou on his boat. Although this is unfortunate, there’s not much we individually can change about it.

However, money does talk. You can choose to reduce your meat intake, and in doing so, these companies directly lose money. When looking for your next tube of mascara, look for the Vegan and the Leaping Bunny labels! The labels vary, but here’s what they could potentially look like.

Shampoo bottles with cf/vegan labels circled
Original photo by Claire Hendrix

Although we often reach for perfection (and are disappointed if we can’t get there), doing something is better than nothing. More times than not, especially with cosmetics, there is most likely a vegan alternative at your local drug store or supermarket. If you’re interested in eating fewer animal products, many meatless alternatives taste similar to beef and fish, such as Impossible Beef & Zalmon Sashimi

Vegan sashimi
Original photo by Claire Hendrix

At the end of the day, boycotting products that test on animals or animal products in general won’t solve all the problems in the world. But, it is taking a step in the right direction for the planet and those who inhabit it.

With that in mind, I’m not really sure how I want to wrap this up. I wish there was a cut and dry solution to combat climate change at an individual level, and this is kind of already lengthy, so I shouldn’t get on my soapbox about legislation… yet.

But again — it’s better to do something than nothing!

Chat soon,

Claire is currently a senior at the University of South Florida majoring in Public Relations and Advertising and pursuing a minor in Women's & Gender Studies. Her goals after graduation include scoring a professional internship with the Walt Disney Company, doing public relations (or anything) for Milk! Records, working for a farm sanctuary, and eventually slowing down to live in the mountains. Probably listens to Phoebe Bridgers more than the average person.
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