The maker of PG Tips has agreed to stop testing its teas on animals, after activists threatened to launch a name-and-shame publicity campaign to highlight the company's experiments on rabbits, rats and pigs.
For a decade after Unilever ended its series of PG Tips ads featuring chimpanzees, amid growing unease about animal cruelty, the company has been conducting laboratory experiments aimed at bolstering health claims for tea, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said.
Experiments included injecting pigs with E. coli bacteria and then seeing if feeding them tea would help to combat the infection. Rabbits were fattened up and rats were given high-sugar diets, with the aim of seeing if tea reduced plaque in their arteries. The animals suffered bowel inflammation or brain damage and were usually destroyed after the experiments, Peta said.
Kathy Guillermo, the campaign group's head of laboratory investigations, said Peta first approached Unilever two years ago, after discovering the extent of its animal testing. But she said the threat of a major publicity campaign pushed the company into talks. Unilever is the world's largest manufacturer of tea, and owns the Lipton brand and others, as well as PG Tips.
Peta drew up website material and billboard posters advocating a boycott of Unilever's brands, under the slogan "Crueltea". It also urged supporters to swamp Unilever with 40,000 emails.
Ms Guillermo said: "The emails were a little taste of what was to come. It proves the power of people around the world." No more piglets will be infected with E. coli and have their intestines cut apart while they are alive, Peta said in a victory statement. "Rabbits' heads won't be cut off, and other cruel tests that involved tormenting and killing animals simply to study the health effects of tea products and ingredients will no longer take place," it added.
Unilever said: "We have an ongoing dialogue with consumers and NGOs (including Peta), and that dialogue suggested to us that we consider whether our position on animal testing was consistent with the leadership role we have taken in other areas such as environmental sustainability and ethical sourcing of tea... We have done a very limited amount of testing of tea ingredients on animals when no other alternative method was available. This will stop now."