Can testing cosmetics on animals ever be a sign of sanity? Lab-life with Harvey (6′ 3.5″)

While developing the first products for my natural skincare range, Leafology, I learned that, here in the EU, we are not technically allowed to label our cosmetic products as being ‘not tested on animals’. Unofficially, it’s because we ought not imply that other products are testing on animals, since to do so is illegal; officially, we can’t cite that claim with ultimate confidence since, sadly, the reality is that most if not all of the component parts of a lip balm, cream, gel or lotion will have been tested on animals at some point in history. Therefore, to say that a product has not been tested on animals is misleading in the sense that it can’t always be entirely true, or at least, not if a product is considered the sum of its parts. However, it is at least true that the final product will not have been tested on animals and this can be claimed (thankfully) with absolute certainty; no one will have smeared my body balm behind the ears of a rabbit before it was approved for the market. Sadly, in some countries (notably China), the opposite is true; a product not only can be tested on animals before it ends up in the shops; it must be.

We can allude on our packaging that we are against animal testing (and I allude to such with the use of my hand-drawn effort, below).

tea-rabbit-for-website-cropped-sm

The notion of testing on animals is representative of a wide beam of ludicrosity which spans the repulsively cruel (I won’t go into this here because I think it’s needless, and horrific, and obvious) to the plain daft. Daft because the effect of certain cosmetic ingredients on the skin or hair of an animal simply doesn’t enlighten us much about the possible effect on the human equivalent (since they are just so different). The acceptable levels of allergens and sensitisers can’t necessarily be assumed as equal; our human skin varies even between sex (men’s skin is thicker than women’s; the composition of products must be assessed under separate guidelines because of this), so imagine how much it can differ between species. Testing shampoo (etc.) on animals is pure nonsense both practically and poetically.

Really, imagine going to your local otter with your hand cream and saying (he turning round to answer your interruption, having been doing something on the computer with his back to you), ‘Um, terribly sorry, Oswald, just wondering if you could, er…’

‘Oh for goodness sake. The Rose and Cardamom blend again, is it? Slightly lower levels of cardamom in this version, you say? Fine,’ as he holds out the underside of his wrist and shakes his head at the utter dullness of the task and, though perhaps not offended by the scent (it is an intriguing balance of spice and floral), ultimately preferring to smell, let’s face it, of otter.

In fact, imagine going to domestic or woodland animals with all of our various human problems. (We might as well.)

‘Look, Clive,’ you’d say to your cat. ‘I just worry I got too drunk last night. I might have overstepped the mark with Alice. What do you think?’ (This puts Clive in an awkward position; he aims to be tactful, but Alice has been putting up with all sorts of crap and it is time, he feels, for you to draw a line.)

Or perhaps you ask a sausage dog to test all your food before you bring it to your lips. ‘I just want to be sure, Syril, do you think this kale is past its best? It said the 18th, but it’s unopened. Just sniff it?’

Harvey (we could imagine him to be a hare rather than a rabbit, if only to make him alliterative, but in fact he is a pooka) is the company mascot of Leafology in the sense that he represents his own whimsical choice to be present and collaborative; in the 1950 comic film, he is a 6ft 3.5 inches tall apparition experienced only by Elwood, a character whose sanity is constantly in question due to his proclivity for pulling out an extra chair and ordering an extra martini while laughing at jokes only he can hear. Harvey is, in fact, entirely absent according to those around him, who cannot see Harvey and so cannot partake in any three-way conversations, despite their inclination to be polite.

A pooka, according to Celtic mythology, is a playful, harmless spirit drawn especially to social misfits. When Elwood is finally taken by his family to a mental institute for testing, it quickly becomes unclear to the practitioners exactly who is out of step with reality; in the end, Elwood is left walking free, chatting, of course, to Harvey, whose existence seems increasingly solid. A choice, too, is offered and it is the one between medicating Elwood (and he is perfectly happy to oblige, if only to humour his friends and family; he too is overarchingly polite) or leaving him how he is; the choice, further explained, is between extricating Harvey from Elwood’s mind (a fate which conjoins with the possibility of a flattening overall of his mood and character), and leaving him possibly barmy, but cheerful and well-liked.

Harvey, then, rather than a test subject, becomes a test for humankind; do we like each other happy but mad, or sane but deprived? By the end of the film, it emerges that the more of us that see Harvey, the better; he is hand in hand with whoever enjoys his company, and goes where he is needed. Ultimately Harvey (not just Elwood) is left unbothered; not in a lab, perhaps drinking tea, smelling entirely of pooka.

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