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Is there an international standard for brushes that use animal hair bristles that shows them to be cruelty free?

For example that the animals were raised and slaughtered under humane conditions, or that the bristles were harvested from animals without them first having been killed?

I am concerned about buying brushes that come from overseas fur farms where the animals are mistreated, or where the pelts are a byproduct of an animal based industry with poor standards.

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    If there is an international standard on cruelty free animal raising it is almost certainly based on the idea of the lowest common denominator. Meaning any animal raising satisfies it and it is not a useful criterion for anyone who actually cares about the topic.
    – quarague
    Jan 23 at 7:50
  • International standards are managed by the ISO, they have a website: iso.org
    – Aaron F
    Jan 23 at 23:59

2 Answers 2

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Note: Apologies. My original answer focused on the predominant types of natural bristles (which don't have issues of animal cruelty), and skipped the small market segment that is associated with animal cruelty and which the question was actually focused on. This is a significant rewrite and expansion to provide a more complete and accurate answer.

There are several aspects stated or implied in the question:

  • Are there international standards relating to cruelty in the production of brushes?

    No, there is no such ISO standard. Many countries regulate some aspects of animal treatment. These are generally effective at making the predominant kinds of natural bristles cruelty-free, but largely ineffective at addressing the issue this question focuses on.

  • Clarifying the nature and source of the problem

    The question and comments refer to overseas fur farms where animals are mistreated and the industry has poor standards. This misstates the nature and source of the problem, and suggests that one could buy cruelty-free sable brushes from caring, well-regulated American fur farms if only there was an identified standard printed on the box of brushes. So let me start with some context.

    Natural brush bristles come from two kinds of sources. The vast majority come from domesticated farm animals, like pigs, horses, ponies, oxen, goats, etc. The animals are raised for other purposes and the hair/bristles are a minor by-product. Domesticated animals are a big investment, intended to provide service over a long time or mature to become food. As such, they are generally well-treated.

    Harvesting hair from these live animals entails processes that most people would not define as inhumane; anything traumatic to the animal would be detrimental to the purpose for which they are being raised. Hog bristles are the predominant source of natural brush bristles, and they are recovered from the skin as a waste product after the animal is slaughtered for food. For animals raised for food, at least developed countries typically have some regulations on their humane care and slaughtering.

    So the vast majority of natural brush bristles would be deemed cruelty-free by most people who don't have issues with the domestication of farm animals, and that is not the source that is the focus of the question.

    The other kind of source is non-domesticated animals, which accounts for a tiny portion of natural bristles, but is where most questions of animal cruelty come in.

  • Non-domesticated animals

    Each type of animal hair has some unique characteristics. There is a wide range of domesticated animals, from which a variety of hair characteristics are available. Some non-domesticated animals have hair with other characteristics, which make good brushes.

    Some of these animals can be bred in captivity, and some don't do well even with that, requiring that they be captured in the wild (or they are easily trapped so it isn't worth the investment of raising them in captivity). For the most part, their fur is the reason they are raised or captured. Often, the body portion of the pelt is used for fur and the tail is used for brushes.

    For the animals bred and raised in captivity, the money is in the fur, so there is an incentive to keep the animals healthy and injury-free. But the fur farms are not animal sanctuaries where caretakers try to provide the best possible quality of life. The goal is to keep the fur uninjured and reasonably healthy only for as long as it takes to grow to mature size. The non-domesticated animals bred and raised in captivity are not like pets or farm animals. They're wild, fast, predatory animals that are contained in an enclosure. Their care is different from raising domesticated herbivore food animals with a similar goal.

    Animals trapped in the wild are typically killed at that location as soon as they are discovered, so there's no incentive to use non-injuring traps, which would greatly reduce productivity. Trapping is often performed by people on a subsistence income who view the pelts as a commodity; humane treatment for the "varmints" is typically not a consideration.

    Various methods are used to kill the animals bred and raised in captivity. The incentive is to do it in a way that doesn't ruin the fur. A humane method that doesn't induce panic would be consistent with that, but there's no way to know what method was used. For wild-captured animals, the method used to kill the animal at the capture location typically does not guarantee an immediate and painless death, although an experienced trapper can quickly put the traumitized, trapped animal out of its misery.

    It's not impossible to make brushes that most people would consider cruelty-free from non-domesticated animals raised in captivity, but we don't know which sources accomplish that. For wild-caught animals, it's likely that they were not trapped and killed by methods most people would consider cruelty-free, and we don't know what brushes contain their hair.

    Brush labelling as to hair content is very unreliable; the labelled species is often merely suggestive of the brush's characteristics; it may or may not contain hair from the labelled species, or may be a mix of different animal hairs. As a purchaser, it is impossible to reliably know whether a specific brush or brand qualifies as cruelty-free. The default assumption should be that it probably is not.

  • What can you do?

    Brushes made from the hair of non-domesticated animals exist because the hair has characteristics that are different from the hair available from domesticated animals, and some people are willing to pay the cost of obtaining hair from those sources. It is available for a price, but you can't count on it being cruelty-free.

    Some brush manufacturers try to emulate the characteristics of these animal hairs by combining hairs from different domesticated animals and/or synthetics. You can try those to see if they meet your needs. But if only the "real thing" produces the results you want, realistically, you would probably need to weigh use of the brushes against your priority that they be cruelty-free.

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    These days a lot of brushes come from countries like China where the animals are kept in poor conditions or are otherwise mistreated or slaughtered in inhuman ways. There are international standards for pretty much everything else these days. Jan 23 at 7:43
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    What reasons are there to assume no animals are hurt? I feel like this is getting upvoted because it's what people want to hear. It's like saying no cows are abused for getting milk, because it wouldn't make sense, but - unfortunately - it does, because it just makes things a lot easier, faster, and cheaper.
    – Joachim
    Jan 28 at 14:41
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    @Joachim, I disagree that this is just an appeal to probability, but I see the point you're making. Let me think about how to better frame the answer and I'll take another stab at it.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 29 at 18:07
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    @Joachim, I really missed the mark with my original answer. Thanks for identifying that it had a problem.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 30 at 23:25
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    Thank you so much, @fixer1234! This is a much more nuanced answer, that addresses the underlying concerns of the question and points out potential issues while remaining neutral.
    – Joachim
    Jan 31 at 0:42
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The only concrete way to ensure your brushes are cruelty free is to buy synthetic!

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