Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling for a boycott of all Mars confectionery products, after the company admitted testing flavanols, a "healthy" chocolate ingredient, on animals.
Group spokesperson Shalin Gala told ConfectioneryNews.com that PETA has decided to target Mars because of its "unnecessary and cruel animal tests that are apparently designed to help bolster health marketing claims for its chocolate candies."
The case highlights the conundrum facing chocolate manufacturers eager to cash in on the "healthy chocolate" product trend. While stringent scientific research is needed to validate the efficacy of these items, many consumers and advocacy groups are not willing to condone invasive investigative procedures on animals.
Christophe Dandoy, director of communications for Mars France, admitted that the business division Symbioscience does test on animals while developing "pharmaceutical and therapeutic food ingredients", including flavanols.
He also claimed, however, that the Mars is still committed to animal welfare, and does not test on animals when developing other products for the food, beverage or pet care divisions.
"Although we do care about animals, we have to by law test on animals when developing products that contain flavanols, because of the pharmaceutical regulations," he said.
Masterfoods US, which owns the Mars brand, has conducted over 15 years of research into the benefits of cocoa flavanols, and owns the patent for its Cocoapro process, which extracts naturally occurring antioxidant flavanols from cocoa beans.
In recent years Mars has used flavanols as an ingredient in its CocoaVia range, claiming that these chocolate bars help lower cholesterol.
According to PETA, the experimentation methods currently being used are extremely cruel and painful for the animals being used.
Tests include cutting open the legs of live rats to reveal arteries, allowing scientists to determine the effect of chocolate ingredients on blood flow, PETA claims.
Other experiments carried out by Mars include forcing flavanol-fed rats to swim in a mixture of white paint and water, injecting cocoa ingredients into the jugular veins of animals, and submerging baby mice in chilled containers for five hours at a time, the group added.
As well as encouraging consumers to boycott all Mars products, PETA has also urged the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Mars's advertising practices, as the group claims that Mars uses 'deceptive and misleading terminology' in marketing campaigns. These lead consumers into thinking that the company does not in fact test any products on animals, PETA claims.
"We request that you launch an investigation into Mars' false-advertising practices…… to prevent the company from causing further injury to consumers who are currently being deceived when making purchasing decisions," PETA said in a letter to the FTC.
PETA also praised other food companies such as Hershey, which, unlike Mars, are still refusing to test any products on animals.
These companies have realised that it is possible to substantiate health claims without animal tests, PETA said.
"Hershey's program of humane non-animal research is an excellent model that the rest of the confectionary industry should seek to emulate," Gala said. "We are currently looking into other confectionary companies' testing practices to determine whether unnecessary and cruel testing on animals is taking place."
However, Swiss-based company Barry Callebaut told ConfectioneryNews.com that it is in fact necessary to test products containing flavanols on animals, as it is required by law.
"But no animals suffer when Barry Callebaut carries out testing on animals," she said.