Animal Testing

Humans: Terrible.

Back when we were fretting about whether or not to take non-veggie medicine, we happened upon the inconvenient truth that even if medicines are veggie by ingredient, they still have to be tested on animals. This gives us the kind of moral clustercuss we live for: People can think animal testing is wrong for cosmetics even if they eat meat, or necessary for medicine even if they’re vegan. It’s a battleground for greyed areas, doubled standards, wrung hands and hypocrisies. Let’s see if we can make some sense of it all.

Why are animals tested on?
Animals have long been test subjects for human cosmetics, medicines, cleaning products, food additives and industrial and agricultural products. We’ve also shot them into space a few times. What happens to them and why depends on where they are in the world. In the UK and EU right now, animal testing has been banned for cosmetic products. In China, the US and elsewhere, animals are still suffering for the sake of lipstick.

The why is fairly obvious even while its validity is contested: Before products hit the market they must be proven to be safe for human use. And this isn’t just about yer cancer or yer AIDS or avoiding another thalidomide. This is also about pet food and toilet cleaner and Botox.

What are we talking about here?
In the UK, legislation allows for procedures that are likely to cause an animal “pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.” They can be done without anaesthetic or analgesic if using them would mess with the object of the experiment. That’s comfortably abstract. Let’s get specific.

Cruelty Free International has been knocking about for more than 100 years, proving it’s either dedicated to the cause of ending animal testing or fairly useless at doing it. Their undercover investigation of Botox testing revealed hundreds of mice every week were poisoned, injected with a strong enough dose of botulinum toxin that they had a 50 percent chance of being killed. Scienticians looked on as mice became paralysed, gasped for air, and suffocated to death. Undercover filming showed survivors being killed after their usefulness was done, lab assistants breaking their necks by pressing down on them with ballpoint pens. When killing them in large numbers, they used gas chambers instead. And this is Botox we’re talking about. Thousands of animals tortured and killed so Donald Trump’s ex-wives can look like trampolines that are simultaneously 12 and 94 years old.

Photo by Wind Ira on Unsplash

How many are we talking about here?
Cruelty Free International reckons in 2015 about 192 million animals were experimented on. In the UK alone, in 2021 there were more than 3 million experiments on more than 1.6 million animals. And that wasn’t just mice: Fish, birds, rats, horses, non-human primates, cats and dogs were also tortured on our behalf. Dogs! Fucking dogs! And every one of them a good boy!

Hard science: hard
When figuring what to do about this there’s an issue more scientific than my brain can handle: Whether animal testing actually serves a purpose. This is a vital point for us to grasp because for many, animal testing is seen as a necessary evil. But if you take the ‘necessary’ out of ‘necessary evil’ you’re left with… y’know. Evil.

Unfortunately, on the one side you have scientists talking about stuff I don’t understand, and on the other you have animal rights activists claiming to know better than the scientists talking about stuff I don’t understand. Both have obvious biases, making it difficult to understand or trust anything that’s said by anyone.

Pro-vivisection scientists say animal testing is vital to developing safe medicines for humans, citing example after example including penicillin which was dismissed until tested on mice to prove its effect. Anti-vivisection campaigners say animals are so different to humans that testing on them is unreliable and largely irrelevant, citing example after example including penicillin which in large doses kills guinea pigs.

Then there’s the question of alternatives. Cruelty Free International and PETA suggest using computer models, cell cultures, stem cells, donated human tissue, volunteer studies and microdosing. Others say they’re all limited in usefulness and are only complementary methods of testing to be included alongside animal tests.

I could stand on a stepladder at the top of the Himalayas and this would still be over my head. Let’s get back to morality; we know what we’re doing there.

Degrees of awfulness
If morality is on a sliding scale, animal testing is all over the shop. A recent survey of me suggests I think animal testing for cosmetics is disgusting, animal testing for cleaning products is stupid, animal testing for Botox is disgustingly stupid, and animal testing for medicines is… a little tricky.

I thought we’d made our peace with medicine. Turns out there’s an uneasy ceasefire, and border skirmishes between me and Lemsip are doing little to ease tensions. We’ve accepted medicine might have bits of animal in it and either we take it knowingly or stay sicker for longer. The same goes animal testing. Where the law demands all medicines are tested on animals there’s no choosing one over another as there is with one toilet cleaner over another. If an HIV vaccine comes along it will have been tested on animals. Either we take it or we don’t.

What we need, as with most things, is not individual choice but systemic change. We need alternatives to animal testing so we don’t have to choose between life (ours) and death (theirs).

What to do, what to do
We may not be scientific types but we are not powerless. When it comes to cosmetics, household products and anything non-mediciney we can choose carefully to ensure we’re not buying things that have been tested on animals. We can check product databases from Cruelty Free and PETA. We can get stuck into their campaigns to ban cosmetics testing beyond the UK and EU. If we think we know what we’re talking about we can work to ban all animal testing, including for medical research.

Completely avoiding things tested on animals isn’t an option right now unless you’re willing to die for the principle, but it may be an option in a future of our making.

Photo credit: Creative Commons Stock Photos (header image)



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