Failed: Animal Testing

failAll tests are not equal. Get out the red pen because some are badly designed, destined to be poorly graded. These tests are simply:

  • Unnecessary
  • Cruel
  • Deadly

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.

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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.

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picm_march2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2013

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Run of the Mill Pets

My beloved Beagle, Buzz, recently turned 15. I know this because, unlike my two rescues who have mystery backgrounds, Buzz came with a certified pedigree, a piece of paper in which I once took pride.

I found my pedigreed pup in a wall of cages filled with young dogs of different breeds. This was standard practice not so long ago. I wasn’t alarmed. Instead, I ignorantly shelled out $500, not knowing what I was buying into: multi-billion dollar business profiting on a factory-style turnaround of animals bred as commodities.

Buzz wasn’t the haphazard result of someone’s “pet” getting pregnant. (Pets, in many jurisdictions, are defined as being kept by owners “for pleasure rather than utility and/or commercial purposes.”) My little black-and-tan buddy wasn’t the whelp of someone with a hobby permit, because such animals are rendered sterile. Nor was he bred by a “fancier,” an owner of purebreds who must keep no more than one litter at a time up to a specified age and comply with zoning and health department regulations.

depositphotos_70612097_originalSadly, Buzz came from a puppy mill*, bred by parents who likely lived in filthy wire cages covered in their own increment, bred multiple times to mass produce puppies – many of whom are shipped to other states (such as the case with Buzz) – with rarely a scratch to the ears or a kind word.

At least word has gotten out on puppy mills. Many of us now know that buying a puppy from a pet store or on-line often means that we’re lining the pockets of indiscriminate breeders (including backyard breeders cashing in on their dogs).

Unfortunately, mills aren’t limited to puppies. If there’s a buck to be made, breeders are ready to cash in: purebred cats, “designer dogs” (see the Oct. 2012 issue), ferrets, hedgehogs, birds, reptiles, mice and rats (especially for laboratory experiments or to be used as reptile food), fish, and wild exotics (that shouldn’t be pets, period).

From whom should we get our pets? First check out shelters and rescue groups. You can find purebreds, if that’s important to you, or surprise yourself by melting into the eyes of whoever is waiting for you.

If looking for a specific breed, seek out a responsible breeder. Go to the animal’s home and insist on seeing the parents. Are they free to roam? Do they lovingly interact with their human caretakers or shy away? Are vaccinations up to date? Are there just a couple of adult animals or are there many?

If seeking a caged animal, again look for tell-tale signs of a mill (the sales of exotics add up to $15 billion in the U.S. alone). Are there many animals? Are there employees, suggesting it’s a business? Are they socialized and used to human touch from regular handling? Are they housed in appropriately spacious cages? For example, a single adult boa restrictor requires a minimum of 10 square feet of floor space with 3’ walls, a strong branch for climbing, and a hiding space to feel secure. If stored in drawers, be concerned about rewarding such behavior with a financial transaction.

Responsible breeders give references, provide written contracts and health guarantees, explain genetic problems unique to a breed and provide documentation of the parents being evaluated in an effort to breed out these problems, and offer guidance for care. Responsible breeders also want to meet you to ensure their animals are going to good homes.

We need to stop the mills from turning. Otherwise, we support a business that breeds animals when there’s already an overpopulation crisis and where many animals die and suffer in the process before you see the cleaned-up doggy in the window that will tug your heart strings or the exotic bird or snake that is “cool.”

An animal shouldn’t just get a happy ending with you. It deserves a happy beginning too.

 

* A Google search confirmed my suspicions: multiple USDA inspections cite the Grand River Kennels of Macksburg, IA for no attending veterinarian, a dirty “whelping building” with enclosures needing “to have feces removed and maintained,” and “protruding wires or frayed chicken wire.”

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First published in Pets in the City Magazine, September 2013

Of Mice, Rats, Birds and Men

Facts are often stranger than fiction.

A case in point: The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that provides basic protections for animals used in laboratory research doesn’t cover 95% of those animals, including mice, rats, and birds. While dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and nonhuman primates must receive appropriate food, shelter, and medical care, the majority lack any such consideration. Instead, researchers can subject them to excruciating procedures without anesthesia, house them in overcrowded conditions or in isolation, and dispose of them as they see fit.

It verges on a horror story.

picture3What is the Animal Welfare Act?

The AWA is the federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers by setting minimum acceptable standards. In regards to research, the AWA requires suitable housing, veterinary care, and research being conducted in compliance with the “three R’s”: replacement, reduction, and refinement.

Replacement: Where possible, researchers should perform experiments on a replacement, such as computer simulations, mathematical models, and in vitro.

Reduction: Researchers should reduce the number of animals used to the smallest amount possible.

Refinement: Researchers should design experiments to minimize the animals’ pain and suffering.

A 1970 amendment to the AWA covered all warm-blooded animals. The federal anti-cruelty law did not specify protections but directed the USDA to adopt regulations to protect the animals.

Follow the Money

Despite direction from Congress, the Secretary of Agriculture promptly excluded the majority used in research. In 2002, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, amended the Farm Bill (H.R. 2646) to legally seal the deal to exclude these animals. Why? His top contributors included tobacco companies that experiment on these animals.

So, USDA veterinary inspectors do not oversee their care. Their numbers are not even reported (though estimated to be up to 100 million).

The economics also make the circumstances worse for these animals. Cheaply bred and sold by laboratory supply companies, they’re used en masse. With higher priced animals – say rhesus monkeys – the ledgers require more carefully designed research methodology to minimize variables. The higher costs of these animals also ensure they’re better treated because, by golly, they’re more expensive to replace.

Cheap animals are disposable. You can have a study involving a thousand mice with fewer controls for variables, because the large numbers themselves will ultimately bear out statistically significant results. (Apparently, some studies are so unconstrained that they cannot be replicated in different labs.)

“Ethically Indefensible”

Many researchers themselves, including the American Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, say the treatment of these animals is “ethically indefensible.”

The lack of regulation even goes against the intent of Congress. Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-KS, has stated, “When Congress stated that the AWA applied to all warm-blooded animals, we certainly did not intend to exclude 95% of the animals used in biomedical research laboratories.”

The current law is even out of whack with the National Institute of Health’s voluntary industry standards to consider alternatives and minimize and avoid pain for all vertebrates (including cold-blooded animals, such as fish and frogs), as well as the National Academy of Sciences’ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, introduced a bill (H.R. 6693*) last year to include rats, mice and birds under the AWA, basically restoring it to its 1970 scope as the bipartisan framers intended. Unsurprisingly, the bill now lingers in the Committee on Agriculture.

While Utah does not have a representative on that committee, petitions are available on the internet to weigh in on the issue and help bring it to a vote. Don’t let Congress Mickey Mouse around on this.

*UPDATE: This bill died in Congress. Of course.

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picm_oct2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, October 2013.