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Dec 12.19

Will Potter and the Lush Prize

Posted In: Lush Prize

“This year was my first time attending the Lush Prize awards in London, and I have to be honest: I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Ever wonder what it’s like to attend the Lush Prize awards? TED Senior Fellow and author Will Potter shares his thoughts and experiences from inside this year’s conference.

Lush Prize statues wait patiently

I'm a journalist with a focus on animal rights and environmental movements, and I also write a lot about the law and national security issues. I had heard Lush doesn't test on animals, but I really didn't know much else; I certainly couldn't tell you the difference between a bath bomb and a bubbleroon.

When I met Lush's Canadian Public Relations person, Seema Dhillon, at the TED conference in Vancouver, BC, she told me about the awards focused on putting an end to animal testing. I immediately jumped at the chance to attend.

When I landed in London, a bit of panic set in. I don't know the first thing about beauty products and thought I'd be horribly out of place. Plus, my beat doesn't exactly give me much of an opportunity to write about bath bombs (although I now wish I could and wonder if a career change is in order).

I quickly realized how much I didn't know about Lush's extensive work on social justice issues. In particular, the massive international effort they have led around putting an end to cruel, scientifically inaccurate and outdated animal tests.

Will Potter sits with Lush Prize attendees

A large component of that effort is public education (and if you're reading this on the Lush blog, you're probably already familiar with Lush's store demos against animal testing, for instance, and their "Fight Animal Testing" bags).

What I found most fascinating about the Lush Prize, though, is that it's not just about telling people what's wrong with animal testing. It's about showcasing the incredible work being done to stop it, including people like Mojo Mathers, a Green Party Member of Parliament in New Zealand. She led a successful campaign to ban animal testing in the country. At the Lush Prize, she described how a coalition of domestic animal welfare groups put aside their differences to join forces on this issue, and how they attracted international attention through grassroots social media efforts.

In the United States, the Beagle Freedom Project is combating animal testing through their "Identity Campaign." The premise is simple: animal testing reduces animals to a number, a tool no different than a microscope or a lab coat. Through the identity campaign, supporters can symbolically adopt a lab animal, give them a name and then file a public records request to obtain additional information about how that animal has been used in animal testing.

Beagle Freedom Project accepts prize

In Germany, the activist group SOKO Tierschutz worked for more than six months on an undercover investigation of the Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics. For the first time in Europe, animal rights activists exposed shocking experimental brain research on primates.

Their documentation led to the largest animal rights demonstration in Germany in 20 years and forced political leaders to take a stand. Most importantly, it forced the head of the department to end research on primates. A huge part of the Lush Prize is recognizing scientific advances that will help put an end to animal testing. I won't go into much depth about them, first because the science was a bit over my head, and second because, in some ways the science itself, no matter how incredible, isn't what was most inspiring to me. Much more inspirational was realizing that many of these scientific developments would have gone unnoticed, and unrecognized, without this program.

Because here's the thing: animal testing, and the companies and vivisectors who engage in it, depend on public ignorance. It's easy for the suffering of these animals to go unnoticed. They are hidden away in labs that many of us will never see. When cosmetics and pharmaceuticals end up on the store shelves, consumers see the slick finished product far removed from the suffering that takes place behind closed doors.

The Lush Prize is a powerful example of how both companies and consumers can create change, not only through protest and boycotts, but by shining a spotlight on the positive efforts of those working tirelessly, every day, to put an end to the international shame that is animal testing.

Will Potter is a TED Senior Fellow and author of the book, Green is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. For more information, you can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.