Photos by Humane Society International

More than 50 animal-rights campaigners, wearing bunny ears and carrying life-size rabbit cut-outs, took to the streets of Dailan, China, on Monday to celebrate the removal of a controversial animal-test mandate for certain types of cosmetics. Effective immediately, the China Food and Drug Administration will no longer require skin- and eye-irritation tests on so-called “ordinary” cosmetics, which include perfumes, shampoos, and makeup, that are produced and sold in the country. Although the new rule doesn’t cover imported or special-use products such as hair dyes, deodorants, sunscreens, and skin-whiteners, the move is still an “important first step,” says Peter Li, China policy adviser at Humane Society International, a co-sponsor of the Dailan event.

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“This is an important first step for China in moving away from cruel and unreliable animal testing for cosmetics,” Li says in a statement. “Our ‘Be Cruelty-Free’ campaign has worked hard to achieve this milestone, but we know much work remains before we eliminate all cosmetics animal testing in China, so we are not resting on our laurels. In making this rule change, China is acknowledging the global trend towards cruelty-free cosmetics, and that’s hugely significant.”

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China tests cosmetics on as many as 300,000 rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and other animals each year, according to HSI. The nonprofit estimates that the relaxed regulations could save up to 10,000 animals a year from having chemicals dripped into their eyes, spread on their skins, or force-fed to them in massive, potentially lethal doses.

Li says the next phase in HSI’s campaign is to see the rule change applied to foreign cosmetics. Just as important, the group wants to end the practice of random animal tests on cosmetics that are already on sale.

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“We know that many cruelty-free companies will be keen to sell in China, but they need to be cautious,” Li says. “China will almost certainly increase its post-market surveillance testing, so I’m afraid for the time being it is impossible for a cruelty-free company to manufacture and sell in China without the risk that its products will be dripped in a rabbit’s eyes or forced down a mouse’s throat. We’re determined to end all such suffering, and this rule change is a step in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.”

+ Humane Society International