Published: November 13, 2017

Lush Prize gala

© Lush Prize

By Katherine Martinko

This formidable soap company uses its annual Lush Prize to reward scientists working to replace animals in product safety testing.

Lush is no ordinary cosmetics company. Not only does it manufacture a vast line of products, but it is actively involved in fighting for social justice, environmental protection, and, of course, ending animal testing, which has been the company’s defining feature since it was founded in 1995.

In order to fight animal testing more effectively, Lush established an annual science prize, called the Lush Prize, six years ago. Around $2 million has already been provided to 76 winners in 26 countries, “aiding them in their search for that ‘Eureka moment’ that will bring an end to animal testing, for good.” While the amount in the prize fund changes from year to year, 2017’s amounted to an impressive £330,000 (US $445,000) that was divided among 18 winners in five categories. This past Friday, November 10th, was the awards ceremony in London, which TreeHugger was invited to attend.

Lush Prize gala

Lush Prize gala © K Martinko — The Lush Prize Awards 2017

Prior to the ceremony, I sat down with Hilary Jones, ethics director for Lush and a fierce animal rights campaigner, to learn more about the history of the prize and — more specifically — how a cosmetics company, of all things, would end up offering the biggest prize in the non-animal testing sector. It is an unlikely combination, but it shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, this company’s creativity seems to know no bounds.

Jones’ backstory started in the mid-1990s, when the topic of animal testing had become a hot topic among the British public. Members of Parliament were pressured to do something about it, and eventually a wonderfully progressive bill called the Cosmetics Directive was passed. It stated that there would be no animal testing in the European Union and that no products that had been tested on animals outside of the EU could be sold within it.

Unfortunately, it took until 2013 for this bill to be implemented because the chemical industry fought so hard, claiming it needed a delay because it lacked alternatives for animal testing.

Hilary Jones

© K Martinko — Hilary Jones in London talks about the history of the Lush Prize

But in 2006, another piece of legislation was passed that derailed much of the campaigners’ hard work. Called the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation, it mandated that all chemicals currently used in products sold in the EU had to be retested — and some of this testing was mandated to be on animals.

When this devastating law came into effect, the campaigners realized they needed a new approach. Rather than fight only for legislation, they would also begin to fight for scientific advancements that would render the legislation unnecessary. Jones, who has been on the frontline of this campaign for decades, explained why this was a significant shift:

“Animal rights need to be enshrined in law, otherwise they’re not rights; they’re just fake suggestions… That final protection by law is the only protection animals have from mistreatment, misuse, cruelty. So the goal is always to get the legislation.

“And we’d got the legislation. But then [we realized] that another piece of legislation can contradict it. Suddenly that goal of having animals protected by law didn’t seem enough. Then where do you go if the law isn’t good enough? That’s what made us launch the Lush Prize.”

The Lush Prize is designed to provide funding to scientists whose work contributes to a future where animal testing is irrelevant and unnecessary. Unlike some efforts that strive to ‘reduce’ or ‘refine’ animal testing, the Lush Prize only works for ‘replacement’ of testing with entirely non-animal methods.

Mark Constantine

© K Martinko — Company co-founder, Mark Constantine, presents an award at the Lush Prize gala

The prize is divided into the following five categories:

1) Training Prize

This prize goes to scientists who train others in how to use non-animal testing methods. This is crucial, considering that the whole of toxicology and drug development has been built around the concept of animal testing, which means the ‘language’ of animal testing is deeply embedded in the science world. It is not easy to ‘unlearn’ those techniques, and so visionary leaders are needed.

2) Young Researchers Prize

If young scientists can be caught at the beginning of their careers, before they’ve internalized the ‘language’ of animal testing (although this starts even earlier than that, usually with high school dissections), then it will be more natural for them to embrace non-animal alternatives.

3) Public Campaigning Prize

If the public is not pushing the government for new regulations, it will not happen, as industry will block it. There must be a groundswell of public support for non-animal testing initiatives, and campaigners play a major role in creating that climate.

4) Lobbying Prize

Lobbyists have the very precise role of ensuring that legislation is written correctly (no words left out in order to create loopholes) and helping to push it through, all while fighting the big chemical industry lobbyists. They offer an alternative voice at a crucial stage.

5) Science Prize

The biggest single prize of all goes to researchers developing new ways of testing toxicity pathways. These tests are more relevant to humans (not mice or rats), and improve the predictability of chemical tests, making final products safer and cheaper. This year’s winner, Prof. Jennifer Lewis of the Lewis Bioprinting Team at Harvard, fabricates three-dimensional ‘organ-on-chip’ models that can be used for drug safety testing, bypassing the need for animals altogether.

Additionally, this year, the Andrew Tyler Award was launched, in honor of the recently deceased head of Animal Aid and a former Lush Prize judge. In 2017 it was presented to Tyler’s wife. The award recognizes individuals having a significant impact in the fight against animal testing.

The existence of the Lush Prize speaks to the company’s determination to fight for the future it wants. Sitting idly by and waiting for the laws and culture to change are clearly not an option for Lush, hence this impressive homage to scientific innovation.

TreeHugger was a guest of Lush at the Lush Prize in London, England. There was no obligation to write about the event.