5 Animal Testing Facts in Korea you Need to Know

by Becky

February 26, 2023

As a leader in tech, beauty, and chemical production, Korea's innovations have undoubtedly improved many aspects of our daily lives. However, what often goes unnoticed is the thousands of animals, including cats, dogs, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits, and fish, who pay the price for these advancements through inhumane laboratory experiments.

Although Korea is one of the 5 countries improving animal testing regulations. In 2022 over 10 000 animals died in Korean laboratories daily.
We’ve got many questions about this!

How can a country work towards animal welfare and still find laboratories contravening these mandates? 

And does it affect your beloved Korean Beauty brands?

“While public interest in animal protection gathers unstoppable momentum, over 10,000 animals died every day in 2020 in Korean laboratories.” This shocking statistic comes from Borami Seo, senior policy manager for Humane Society International (HSI) Korea.

A labrotory mouse

In 2020, Korea’s Animal Testing went up by 11,5%

In 2019, over 3.7 million animals were used in industrial safety tests. 

This statistic comes from a report by Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural affairs. And remember this- because it’ll come up again later.

A year later, in 2020, those tests went up to 4 141, 433 according to the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency. Compared to 2015, this was 43,8% in just five short years!

The types of tests done on animals are brutal and often outdated. In 2020 the need for testing was mostly due to efficacy and industrial chemical testing- this could be for food, cosmetics, personal care, or medical sectors.

These numbers are shocking, especially considering the anti-animal-testing attitudes of Korean citizens! 

Just like in Japan, adults in Korea have taken to pampering their dogs instead having children. This phenomenon was noted in this 2019 Insider article. The timing of this public pressure and the changes in the law is not a coincidence. 

Cities like Seoul are dog-friendly, but animal welfare and protection laws aren’t to the highest standards globally. 

As people’s respect for animals- beyond pets- increases, this is slowly turning around. 

More than 80% of Koreans want Animal Testing.

This is according to a 2019 Realmeter poll commissioned by Humane Society International. 

Findings stated that 83% of Korean citizens agreed that their government should invest more in alternative testing methods. Furthermore, just over 81% of participants wanted tax money used for these non-animal alternatives.

Consider the 2019 and 2020 animal testing numbers from the last section, and you’ll understand why Koreans felt this way. 

Especially knowing that while Korean scientists WERE working on these cruelty-free developments, the government was not promoting animal-testing alternatives. 

The Korean government also didn’t promote the various internationally recognized testing methods without animals. 

Luckily, in late 2019 Korea’s government reviewed a bill legislating testing methods that did not involve animals. 

Korea Has Banned Animal Testing on Cosmetics.

Thanks to public appeal, Korea has begun to turn this around. 

In 2016, Korea announced a ban on animal testing for cosmetics. The Korean National Assembly gave companies two years to stop testing final products on animals. 

This was thanks to the work of Cruelty Free International and Representative Jeong-Lim Moon. Despite the bill being passed two years early, by 2018, it was found that animal testing was still commonplace among Korean Beauty brands. 

That report from the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in 2019? It found that 2106 animals underwent tortuous toxicity tests under ‘ cosmetics-related laws’ in 2018- after the date of the ban commencing. 

So an update to the South Korean Cosmetics Act was made. The revisions ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, including; 

  • No ingredients may be tested on animals.
  • No final products may be tested on animals.
  • No toxicity testing may be conducted on animals.

Toxicity testing is a huge cause of suffering for lab animals. However, there are still loopholes;

  • If avoiding animal testing is deemed too difficult, it can still pass for cosmetics.
  • Importing cosmetics that sell in regions where animal testing isn’t legal- but mandated- is still allowed.
  • As are exports to these countries. 

So not all Korean Beauty products are automatically cruelty-free. 

To learn more about animal testing in K-Beauty, read Are Korean Skincare Products Cruelty-Free?

Korea is Only the Second Country in Asia to Ban Animal Testing for Cosmetics.

India led the way in 2013 by removing the mention of animal testing from the country’s cosmetic standards legislation. 

In India’s personal-care and beauty industries, animal testing practices are banned from- both ingredients and finished products. 

Non-animal testing became mandatory, and if companies want to test on animals, they need approval from the Central Drug Standards Control Organisation.

It is still legal to import cosmetics tested on animals- a disappointing loophole. 

However, with the number of brands choosing to sell in regions like Mainland China- where animal testing is required by law- any country that wanted to instate this ban would restrict cosmetics imports heavily. 

The Humane Society Korea is Pushing the PAAMs Bill

The use of animals in research has long been a topic of controversy due to ethical concerns surrounding animal welfare. Animal testing is often seen as inhumane and outdated, and there has been a growing global trend to push for alternative methods of testing.

New approach methodologies (NAMs) offer a way to test products without using animals, such as in vitro studies and computer modeling.

Despite this trend, the number of animals used in research hit a record high of 4.8 million in South Korea in 2021. However, South Korea has been pursuing innovative approaches, such as:

  • organ-on-a-chip technology,
  • organoids,
  • and computer-based modeling, 

to reduce the use of animals in research.

The adoption of NAMs has been slow in South Korea, but the Humane Society International Korea has been working with lawmakers, researchers, and industries to pass the PAAM act. 

This bill, created in 2020, is an Act on the Promotion of Development, Dissemination, and Use of Alternative to Animal Testing Methods. Its goal is to promote the use of alternative methods and shift health research toward more human-predictive methods.

If passed, the PAAM act will encourage the development and use of alternative methods, which can lead to a paradigm shift in health research toward more humane and efficient practices. 

The use of alternative methods can also improve the accuracy and predictability of tests, which can benefit both humans and animals. Overall, the PAAM act offers a promising solution to reduce animal testing and promote the use of alternative methods in South Korea.

Final Thoughts

While toxicity tests have been officially banned in Korea, expectations mean that thousands of animals are still tested every year in the chemical industry for medical developments and, with specific permission- cosmetics. 

As we’ve seen, the people of Korea don’t agree with these tests being continued. Some argue that animal testing is needed, but many alternatives aren’t inhumane to living beings.

Korea’s government listened, eliminating most animal testing in the cosmetics industry, but if your favorite K-Beauty products are sold in China… they are indirectly tested on animals and can not be considered cruelty-free.

We must stand up to companies doing this and show them what we won’t support. One way is only supporting brands that don’t do business where animal testing is required by law- and boycotting the rest. 

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