A Deep Dive Into Animal Testing & Experimentation
Living a compassionate life goes beyond just the dinner table. In addition to forgoing meat, eggs, and dairy products, vegans also strive to eliminate all animal involvement from things like clothing and toiletries, which might contain leather or gelatin.
But what about products that don’t necessarily contain animal ingredients, but are tested on animals?
Sadly, this somewhat hidden industry contains some of the most traumatic and appalling animal treatment in all of the industries.
Let’s take a closer look at what animal testing is, what in entails, and why products that are tested on animals have no place in a cruelty-free lifestyle.
What is Animal Testing
Animal testing, also called vivisection, is the practice of carrying out experiments on animals.
Vivisection can include physical experiments, like forcing animals to ingest poison for toxicity tests, to repeatedly separating infant animals from their mothers.
Animal testing is traditionally used for biomedical experimentation, product and cosmetic testing, and science education.
Because federal laws do not require institutions that use animal testing to report the number of animals used in their experiments, the exact number is unknown, but it is estimated that the total number of animals in science is anywhere from 20-70 million helpless creatures.
Why Is Animal Testing Bad?
Animal experimentation causes immense suffering to the animals involved. The only law that “protects” animals in science still allows them to be burned, shocked, poisoned, starved, isolated, restrained, and brain-damaged, and painkillers are not required.
Remember how bad it hurts when you have a speck of dirt or a bit of shampoo in your eye?
Imagine what it would be like to have a liquid, flake, granule, or powdered substance dropped into your eyes, and there was no way for you to relieve the pain.
This is the experience of rabbits used in eye irritancy tests, whose sole purpose is to exhibit the damage caused to eye tissue by a particular substance.
Similarly, an animal in an acute toxicity test is forced to ingest a substance, often through a hole in the stomach or throat, via injection, mixed into food, or inhaled through a gas mask. Experimenters then observe the animals’ reactions, which range from convulsions to diarrhea to bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Animals are also used in psychological tests with the goal of better understanding disorders like PTSD, though the research is redundant and has been studied for years.
In studies like this, researchers induce post-traumatic stress disorder by separating baby monkeys from their mothers and studying the detrimental effects on the monkey over time.
An experiment that involved separating a human baby from its mother to study the effects would never pass a modern-day research ethics board, so why would we subject the monkey, our closest genetic cousin, to such a heartbreaking test?
If we would not want it to be done to us or to those we love, why would we allow it to be done to other living, sentient creatures, who have the ability to make social relationships and feel pain?
The Morality of it All
Ultimately, none of the animals involved in experimentation have any say in their situation.
Unlike humans, who would sign paperwork before agreeing to participate in any experiment, animals used for testing are forced into a sad, stressful life with no choice or alternative.
This exploitation of animals for the perceived benefit of human beings is simply unethical.
Additionally, if we look at the impact on either side, we see a clear imbalance. On one side of the scale, there is a potential human inconvenience, which our favorite lipsticks or cleaning products may not be able to be sold overseas, or may not be as readily available.
On the other side is the physical and mental suffering of the animal used in testing, and ultimately, the loss of their life.
When we compare the suffering experienced by both sides, the unfairness in the system is clear. By putting more worth and respect on inconvenience and, frankly, indulgence, instead of on the life of another sentient creature, we are engaging in a practice that is speciesist and unethical in every sense of the term.
Life in a Lab
Imagine what it would be like if you had to spend your entire life as a prisoner - confined to a metal cage, deprived of grass and sunlight, and even basic autonomy over your body.
This is a reality for animals who are used in animal experiments, where the only change in their sad imprisonment is the invasive experiments that are carried out on them, which range from uncomfortable to stressful to downright agonizing.
While laboratories are well-controlled in the areas of lighting and temperature, they are full of sounds from equipment, machinery, and the other animals in the lab.
Research has increasingly shown that mammals, especially rodents, are very sensitive to these noises and that sensitivity does not decrease over time as people had originally thought.
It is like living your entire life in a room where the fire alarm is going off, and causes these animals an inordinate amount of stress, on top of the stress brought on by the tests they are subjected to.
For many animals in science, the only time they get to experience sunshine and grass is if they are lucky enough to be rescued.
Here is a video of lab beagles seeing the outdoors for the very first time.
What Animals Are Used for Testing?
Mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, birds, fish, farm animals, cats, dogs, small monkeys, and chimpanzees are all used in scientific research.
Mice and rats make up about half of all animals used in experimentation and are used in nearly every area of research, from cosmetic testing to biomedical experimentation
These animals are considered some of the lowest on the totem pole of animal welfare, are housed in shoebox-sized plastic containers that slide into a vertical holder - essentially a chest of drawers that houses hundreds of mice and rats.
Because rodents are not covered by the minimal standards of the Animal Welfare Act, which I’ll discuss later, human scientists are free to use them without consideration or care for their pain and stress.
Rabbits are another commonly used animal in product and cosmetic testing.
Research has exploited them in a truly heartbreaking way, as rabbits are used for these painful tests, not because of any genetic makeup, but because they are small, docile, and easily restrained.
Their sweet demeanors are used against them as they are subjected to agonizing eye and skin irritancy tests, where a substance is rubbed into the eyes or skin, and the animal is then restrained so they cannot touch the sores.
In addition to cosmetic testing, rabbits are also used in testing for vaccines and other drugs, and in studying the effects on a developing fetus, given their high rate of reproduction
Macaques, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, and night monkeys are all imported for use in pathological, pharmaceutical, and bioterrorism experiments, which affects the primate populations around the world.
In labs, they are used in many experiments related to infectious diseases.
Like humans, non-human primates rely on family units and tight-knit social circles for survival, emotional health, and psychological well-being.
When they are kept in captivity, they suffer greatly, as these networks are tough to reproduce. It’s not hard to imagine why this would cause such stress to these animals - all we have to do is imagine the one-two punch of distress from being removed from our natural family unit, and kept separated from our companions in a lab setting.
While it's difficult to believe, man’s best friend is a common animal used in painful experiments. Obtained from dealers, taken from the pound, or bred directly for use by a lab, dogs are often used in biomedical research, toxicity tests, and veterinary student training (despite alternatives that do not harm animals).
Like rabbits, Beagles are the breed of choice for these experiments due to their small size and docile, friendly nature. If we would not subject our beloved family pets to these kinds of experiments, we should not stand for it being allowed to continue with any species of animal, as they are all capable of feeling stress and pain.
While there are technically laws and organizations in place to protect the well-being of these animals, most of them completely fail the animals, they are supposed to serve.
The first is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a federal law that is supposed to set a standard of care for animals in research facilities. However, the law is fundamentally flawed, as it excludes the overwhelming majority of animals used in testing, including rats, mice, birds, fish, and reptiles. Those animals that are covered under the law receive only minimal protection.
Even if the laws put in place were expansive enough to adequately cover all species used in experimentation, there are hardly enough inspectors to cover the number of research facilities in the United States.
The USDA has only 120 inspectors for over 12,000 research facilities that are directly involved in research, breeding, or other interactions with these animals, and federal facilities like the Department of Defense are not inspected by the USDA anyway.
For those inspectors who do find violations in research facilities, their power is extremely limited, and it’s virtually impossible that a research facility is penalized for cruelty to the animals there.
Don’t Products Need to Be Tested on Animals to Ensure Safety?
In addition to the pain and distress suffered by research animals, the Food and Drug Administration has reported that 92% of drugs approved for testing in humans fail to receive approval for human use.”
That means a measly 8% deemed suitable for humans based on animal tests do not work on humans anyway.
Put another way: would you jump out of a plane if there were only an 8% chance your parachute would work?
I didn’t think so.
Similarly, a recent study revealed that “animal tests missed 81% of the serious side effects of 43 drugs that went on to harm patients.” Not exactly a shining track record for animal testing, is it?
Despite the abysmal failure rates for animal testing, many governments are in stubborn denial of the inadequacy of these tests, perhaps feeling that testing on animals first gives a layer of legitimacy to the process of rolling out a new drug or product.
There are steps being taken from organizations like the Johns Hopkins University Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing who are looking to replace cruel animal experiments with humane alternatives.
What Can I Do?
All this knowledge of cruel practices in animal testing can feel overwhelming - if entire federal laws can’t protect research animals, what can one person do?
The answer: A LOT!
The single most impactful thing you can do to eradicate cruel animal testing is to avoid purchasing products from companies that test on animals. We’ve written a comprehensive guide to cruelty-free makeup and household cleaning supplies, but you can always double-check your favorite brands on apps like Cruelty-Free or Leaping Bunny.
By choosing cruelty-free products without animal products or testing, you are telling companies that cruel experimentation on animals isn’t acceptable, and they’ll need to phase out testing in order to win back your business.
Look for Labelling
You’ll want to be careful when you’re looking for products with a “cruelty-free” label – much like the word “natural”, cruelty-free can be adulterated by companies looking to market their products to a certain group.
The Leaping Bunny logo is considered the gold standard of cruelty-free products – companies that show this logo on their products must go through a certification process, consent to site visits, and commit to a “no animal testing” manufacturing promise anywhere in the company.
Purchasing from a Leaping Bunny certified company means you can rest easy that no single cent of your purchase is going toward animal cruelty.
Similarly, the cruelty-free bunny logo means the cruelty-free status is certified by PETA.
Companies using this logo must complete a questionnaire and sign a statement of assurance, and the company pays to use and license this logo.
For products that just contain the phrases “cruelty-free”, “not tested on animals”, or “no animal-derived ingredients”, it is best to look up on a product-by-product basis, as there is no certification or approval necessary for companies to use these phrases on their packaging.
Go Above the Call of Duty
If you want to do more than just make compassionate purchases, consider contacting your local lawmakers and asking that laws protecting research animals be enhanced, followed, and enforced.
You can speak with local medical schools and ask that they replace animal testing and dissection in their labs with humane alternatives.
However you choose to go cruelty-free, you are acting as an advocate for the research animals that cannot advocate for themselves.
When someone sees you making a compassionate choice, you have planted a seed in their brain that shows them that there is another way - a kinder alternative that allows both human and non-human animals to benefit and live in a gentler world.