All tests are not equal. Get out the red pen because some are badly designed, destined to be poorly graded. These tests are simply:
No, not referring to those torturous math tests in eighth grade. I’m talking about animal testing.
Since the 1920s, animals from insects, fish, and birds to mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, cats, dogs, and primates have been subjected to testing in the name of public safety. The numbers boggle the mind. According to the ASPCA, more than 15 million mammals are used in research every year, with roughly half of them in painful and/or distressing studies. Many are not given pain medicines or even anesthesia for surgeries, particularly rats and mice that have no protections under the Animal Welfare Act, and they make up 90% of test subjects.
If you believe we have the right to subject animals to such, some tests were arguably justified in delivering beneficial vaccines (e.g., polio and hepatitis B), medical procedures, medicine, nutrition, etc. But just because some research has proved useful doesn’t mean all research has been. Cosmetic testing is a case in point.
Common cosmetic tests include the Draize Test (drops put in the eyes) and Lethal Dose 50 (forcing feeding product until 50% of animals die). Draize tested animals, traditionally rabbits whose cornea structure differs significantly from that of humans, have been known to break their spines trying to escape the pain. Lethally dosed animals typically experience convulsions, vomiting, paralysis, and bleeding as they die. And many more are subjected to a gamut of other tests – some too horrible to describe – only to be “euthanized” when done.
But, it’s a necessary evil, right?
No. In many cases, the science is questionable, with results that are unreliable or not applicable to humans. Bizarrely, despite decades of use, the Lethal Dose 50 test has never been scientifically validated, confirming results are predictive of chemical effects in people. One estimate is that 92% of tests “passed” on animals failed on humans, because animals and humans react differently to various substances.
Humane alternatives also exist, and they can be cheaper, faster, and more accurate at predicting human responses. Scientifically validated alternatives include using cell and tissue cultures (such as EpiDerm™) and corneas from eye banks to identify corrosive substances, eye and skin irritants, and skin toxicity and penetration. Computer models can replicate chemical activity within the human body and interaction with different cells.
Because of the questionable science and alternatives available, many recognize that testing cosmetics on animals is antiquated and unethical. Some countries mandate that cosmetics be “cruelty free.” For example, the European Union’s ban on any animal-tested cosmetics or ingredients, regardless of location of said testing, that will take effect next month, and Israel’s ban became law in January. Progressive companies – such as Paul Mitchell, Merle Norman, Dermatologica, Trader Joe’s, and Urban Decay – produce quality, safe products available in stores everywhere.
As individual consumers, we can make a difference too with how we spend our money. One, we’ll feel better about the products we use. Two, companies will pay attention. If companies aren’t motivated by principles, they certainly are by profits.
First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2013