What Does Cruelty-Free Mean?

Ethical consumerism is more important than ever; we all play a role in the health of our planet and environment. If you want to make sure that you only purchase products from companies that don’t participate in animal cruelty, we applaud you.

But you should be aware that companies who claim to be cruelty-free are not always as ethical as they seem. Cruelty-free is a label that holds little weight due to phrasing loopholes and a lack of legal oversight.

Let’s break down what cruelty-free really means and explore ways to research companies to tell if they are really as ethical as they claim.

The Cruelty-Free Claim

When a company says that their products are so-called “cruelty-free,” they mean to say that their products aren’t tested on animals, nor are their products made through the use of animals or byproducts that cause harm to those animals.

For example, a cosmetic producer may claim that their cosmetic products are cruelty-free since they:

  • Don’t conduct tests on animals like rabbits to make sure that they are safe before bringing them to market
  • Don’t make the cosmetics using animal meat, fur, or other tissues

People look for cruelty-free claims because they want to do their part for the environment and practice ethical consumerism. No one wants to purchase a product if it means that it got to the store shelf through the suffering of a living creature.

That said, there are several legal loopholes that companies can and do exploit to claim that their products are cruelty-free without truly measuring up to the standard above.

Things get even more complicated when you consider animal testing or animal ingredients like lanolin, beeswax, and gelatin, are used in a wider variety of places than you might think. Supplements, food products, clothing, cosmetics, personal care products, and more can and are all tested on animals worldwide by less-than-ethical companies.

Say that you want to purchase some supplements that may assist with your immune system’s health and energy levels. The finished product looks organic and cruelty-free, but is it really?

Are Cruelty-Free Companies Really Ethical?

It depends. Some companies certainly are, but other companies aren’t really cruelty-free by any sense of the definition.

Put simply; there isn’t a single overarching authority or guideline for companies to adhere to when they claim they are cruelty-free. Any company can make this claim and bet that consumers won’t do research before giving them their money.

Because of this, it can be very tough to tell whether a company is truly a cruelty-free organization and worth your time and money or if they should be avoided at all costs.

Loopholes in Cruelty-Free Claims

According to the FDA, there is no official standard or guideline for cruelty-free labeling in the United States. That technically means that any company can claim that their products are cruelty-free whenever they like, even if they conduct unethical tests during one or more phases of product development.

Many companies don't do this because their aware consumers would see through the lie immediately.

For example, you won't find a meat farm, such as a farm that produces beef or chicken, claiming that their products are cruelty-free or using a vegan label. After all, you can’t get beef or chicken without killing those animals.

But the Food and Drug Administration cautions consumers that many other companies may take a relatively liberal interpretation of “cruelty-free” when labeling their products as such. For example, a company might claim that their products are cruelty-free because they don’t currently test them on animals.

That said, the company could still facilitate or practice animal cruelty by:

  • Getting the raw materials for those products from ingredient suppliers that are not cruelty-free.

    For example, if a shoe company claims to be cruelty-free but it sources the leather for those shoes from another organization, they’re not really cruelty-free since they use authentic leather harvested from animals.

  • Testing cosmetics products or ingredients on animals many years ago when they were first created. In this way, the company isn’t really cruelty-free. They don’t now practice animal cruelty, but they did earlier, and they might do so again whenever it suits their business objectives.

  • Selling different versions of their final products to different markets. As an example, Chinese markets don’t typically have qualms about animal testing or animal cruelty.

  • A company that sells so-called cruelty-free products to American customers but then sells other products to Chinese customers while using new animal testing for their personal care products offerings isn’t cruelty-free in the true sense of the term.

The FDA doesn’t have any plans to regulate cruelty-free labels or to force companies to be honest on this point, either. Because of this, it’s up to individual consumers just like you to independently determine whether companies are truly cruelty-free before giving them your hard-earned cash.

How To Tell if a Company Is Really Cruelty-Free?

There are a couple of different ways in which you can see whether a company is cruelty-free.

The first method involves checking for cruelty-free certification programs. Two programs, in particular, are worth your attention:

  • PETA certifies companies as cruelty-free after they complete a questionnaire and sign a statement of assurance.

    PETA doesn’t have any means to enforce cruelty-free practices, but they have a major PR presence, and companies don’t want to be on their bad side. So organizations certified by PETA are more likely to be cruelty-free than not.

  • Leaping Bunny also has a certification program that is a little more in-depth than PETA’s.

  • Specifically, it requires companies to implement a monitoring system and forces them to allow independent audits of their businesses. Thus, the Leaping Bunny program is a much better choice if you want to ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that a company is cruelty-free before you shop with them.

Aside from looking for certification programs or logos, you can also tell whether a company’s cruelty-free by:

  • Examining them for transparency. Truly ethical companies will be upfront about their cruelty-free standards and laboratories' practices on their websites or “About Us” pages. After all, they won’t have anything to hide!
  • Asking them questions about where they get their materials or products. Even a simple email should be enough to get some answers and verify that a company is truly cruelty-free rather than just taking advantage of this marketing tactic.

There’s no way to be 100 percent sure that an organization is cruelty-free without working there yourself. But checking for certification from PETA or Leaping Bunny and doing a little independent research can go a long way toward making sure your dollars are only spent at companies as dedicated to ethical consumerism as you are.

It's the best way to ensure that you only shop at companies that show compassion and don't test their products on rats, mice, guinea pigs, or other animals.


Ultimately, it’s well worth the effort to do your research and investigate whether a given company is really cruelty-free before purchasing products from them. When you choose cruelty-free, you're doing your part for animals and the environment and helping to make the world a greener, better place overall.

We believe so strongly in this mission that Hope Health also practices cruelty-free manufacturing processes for all of our vegan products and formulations. In fact, each of our organic, healthy supplements is made without animal testing or animal byproducts, plus no artificial chemicals.

We offer full transparency so you can verify for yourself that we’re dedicated to the same ethical mission as you. You can learn more about our ethical practices on our website.


"Cruelty-Free"/"Not Tested on Animals” | FHA

Myths & Facts | Leaping Bunny

Search for Cruelty-Free Companies, Products, and More | PETA