We are all used to seeing distressing campaigns for ‘ethical’ cosmetics or to ban animal testing. Those who are against animal testing will often say that it does not work – citing cases such as the thalidomide babies (thalidomide was shown safe in animal tests). Opponents often say that we have moved beyond the need to perform in-humane and cruel tests products on animals – test tube tests on cell lines or latter stage human testing should be sufficient to ensure safety. Is this stance correct or does it put the welfare of animals above a demonstrated human need?
Animal testing will always be an emotive subject and some people condone it for medical research but not for testing cosmetics or soaps. At the current time the United States runs tests on approximately 26 million animals each year for both medical and commercial purposes. This helps to establish whether medicines and other products are safe for humans to use. Such testing is not new but has taken place since about 500BC. There is currently no other way of testing how a substance will interact within a complex living body (as opposed to a cell culture).
So who is right? Here are the top 10 reasons why animal testing is, if not a pleasant thing, both right and necessary.
10. The Thalidomide Disaster Shows We Need Animal Testing
In the 1950-60s Thalidomide was used to alleviate morning sickness during pregnancy. Sadly thalidomide had very adverse effects in utero. Many babies died and approximately 15,000 were born with limb defects. Thalidomide was tested in animals and this is used as an argument by many to say that animal testing does not work. What is less well known, however, is that not all the necessary tests were performed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US did not approve the sale of Thalidomide due to these incomplete tests.
After the problems with Thalidomide were discovered the full range of tests were carried out and it was shown to cause birth defects across a wide range of species. Because of this tragedy it is now a requirement to carry out tests on pregnant animals. Had the full range of tests been carried out in the first place this tragedy would never have occurred. If animal testing is banned there is every possibility that similar tragedies could occur in the future.
9. We Eat More Than We Test
While the figure above of 26 million animals used in research each year sounds frighteningly large it is, in fact, quite small. Of those 26 million 95% are rodents (rats, mice etc), birds and fish, relatively few higher mammals are used. The human population of the United States eats about 9 billion chickens each year or more than 340 chickens for each animal used in research.
8. Animal Testing on Some Cosmetics is Necessary to Ensure Human Safety
The EU has banned the sale (and marketing) of all cosmetic products with ingredients that have been tested on animals. The EU is not the only part of the world to have done this – India and Israel also have bans in place. The US and China do not, at the present time, have such bans. The FDA does not require animal tests before a product is sold in the US but does advise manufacturers to use appropriate testing and ‘substantiate the safety’ of their products. Animal testing of cosmetics is a legal requirement in China.
Of course ‘cruelty free’ cosmetics are available to buy but this label is often nothing more than a disingenuous marketing ploy. Most companies who make his claim get contractors to undertake the tests on their behalf or use ingredients that have been shown to be safe (through testing on animals in the past). Alternatively companies that do not produce new products can claim that their existing product line is not currently tested on animals even though it will have been in the past.
There are other products which are not medicines but not cosmetics which do need to be tested on animals to ensure that they do not cause harm to humans. Both Europe and the US require potentially toxic substances such as anti-mosquito spray to be to toxicologically tested (on animals) before it can be sold. A ban on testing would ban these products which protect against life threatening diseases such as Malaria and Dengue.
7. Animal Testing has the Overwhelming Support of Professionals
In 2011 the respected journal Nature conducted a poll of 1000 scientists in the field of bio-medics. More than 90% felt that it was ‘essential’ to use animals for research testing. One of the respondents (who works with primates, the most contentious area of research) said that when he has allowed lay-people to tour his laboratory to see how his work is conducted approximately 98% of visitors leave understanding the importance of his work and that it is conducted in line with the very highest of ethics.
It is not only scientists who support this stance – the American Heart Association and the Society of Toxicology have, amongst others, backed the use of animal testing. The rationale for this support being to ‘ensure and enhance human and animal health’ and because it is the best way (with the exception of human tests) to detect potential risks to humans and their environment.
6. Laws Are In Place to Ensure That Animals Are Treated Humanely
We are all used to the distressing photographs that anti testing campaigners use to further their position. While these photographs depict very distressed animals undergoing horrific experiences most of these photographs are misleading. Many are decades old and depict old fashioned labs and practices that are no longer condoned today. Others show animals that are distressed but only because they have been disturbed by the activists breaking in to their laboratory with harsh lights and loud noises.
In the US the Federal Government has, through the mechanism of the Animal Welfare Act, regulated animal research since 1966. This sets out the minimum acceptable level of housing standards and access to potable water and stipulates a minimum acceptable level of veterinary inspections. Every testing facility or research laboratory that uses animals has to have an Animal Care and Use Committee which will oversee the humane treatment of test subjects. This committee will check the proposals and will not allow the research to take place if a viable alternative is available. All animals used in testing must be given pain relief if necessary unless that would affect the results of the research. If a research facility gets funding from the Public Health Service it must comply with the Public Health Service’s policy on the use of laboratory animals. Other countries have similarly stringent welfare regimes.