Animal testing is a kind of scientific experimentation that uses animals to see what intended effects and side effects a wide variety of chemicals and products might have on humans.
That’s the beginning of the definition of animal testing from a human perspective. What about the animal perspective? Imagine spending your life stuck in a room no bigger than a shower. You can’t move around too much. You can barely stretch your legs. And every day, they inject you with chemicals that make your skin burn and your eyes itch. That is the reality for many animals in laboratories around the world.
And the ones that only have burning skin and itchy eyes — they are getting off easy.
What Is Animal Testing?
Animal testing has many different definitions depending on the source or the person you ask. Many people consider animal testing to be valuable for advances in human health, the development of cosmetics, and the discovery of cures and medications. Yet to achieve these goals, the different kinds of tests performed on the laboratory animals range from the sad and unnecessary to the cruel and unusual.
Testing subjects these animals to a confined life that is full of suffering and isolation. Many of the animals subjected to animal testing end up dying as a result of the testing. Animals can, for example, be shaved so that a range of ingredients for a wide variety of different products can be rubbed into their bare skin, to check for any reactions. Testers pour chemicals into the animals’ eyes and leave them there without rinsing them out with water. Again, this is done to see what the effects are.
The laboratory animals can even have their genes engineered and manipulated to test all sorts of wild ideas. The mouse with the human ear-shaped tissue on its back is just the beginning. Remember the glow-in-the-dark rabbits?
So what kinds of industries are performing tests on animals?
You’d be surprised, and perhaps even shocked, to learn just how many products there are out there (and likely in your house) that were concocted using chemicals that were tested on animals. Luckily, there are a lot of companies that have felt the burn of consumers pushing back against their use of animals and stopped, but that number is far lower than it should be.
Let’s take a look at some of the industries out there that are still guilty of animal testing.
More Than 100 Million Animals Are Tested and Killed Every Year
This statistic — published by PETA — may seem shocking, but the reality is probably even worse than you think. Because this is just the estimated number of animals that are killed in labs due to animal testing each year in the United States alone.
These tests happen in the following environments:
- Universities by medical students
- Pharmaceutical labs while creating and testing new drugs
- Cosmetic and cleansing product labs where they test chemicals for future products
- USDA labs to breed cows and chickens with characteristics that agricultural businesses desire
There are also many other industries that test animals and contribute to this shocking death count. And this number doesn’t take into account how many of the animals actually survive the testing. These animals are actually worse off as they will continue to be subjected to more tests and associated cruelty.
Industries That Use Animals for Testing
The use of animal testing spans more industries than you probably think. From cosmetic companies and the pharmaceutical industry to shampoo companies and detergent brands, countless companies around the world are mistreating animals in the pursuit of putting out new products.
Like factory farming, this turns animals into pieces on an assembly line, in an efficiency-obsessed society bent on increasing production and maximizing profits. And depending on where the labs are and who is in charge of them, the treatment and well-being of the animals can go from mediocre to downright awful.
But what is clear, even to those who aren’t that concerned with the treatment of animals in general, is that the animals receiving the best treatment while being subjected to testing in labs are still experiencing a nightmarish situation — a situation where they have zero rights, no freedom, and face a lifetime filled with stress and fear.
The cosmetics industry might be one of the most famous — or rather, infamous — industries that uses animals to test products that are in development.
The chemicals that are used in makeup, creams, lotions, and balms are typically tested on animals to see what kind of reaction could potentially occur in humans once the product is available on shelves. And that’s one of the scariest aspects of animal testing (beyond, of course, the treatment and suffering of the animals).
A core notion in animal testing is that it isn’t “perfect”. The side effects that might impact a rabbit or a rat thanks to a chemical added to a certain hand cream might not occur in a human. And when that is the case, it means that the animal was caged, tested against its will, potentially suffered greatly from the impact of the chemicals and the handling, and was never able to experience any kind of freedom or choice, for absolutely no positive reason.
When buying cosmetic products it’s extremely important to know who you’re buying from and whether or not the companies you support are testing their products on animals. If you aren’t aware of which cosmetic companies are testing on animals, you could very well be inadvertently supporting the abuse and suffering of animals with your dollars. When you are shopping for products, ask questions and do your research.
And if you find out that a company you have been buying from is, indeed, testing on animals, then hit them where it hurts: their bottom line. Stop buying from cosmetic companies that test on animals. Let them know with a letter, with posts on social media, and with the most important, time-tested way to drive change in a capitalist society: spending your dollars with the competition.
It’s quite incredible how many cleaning products exist, and how many of the companies responsible for them test on animals. From air fresheners and dish soap to glass cleaners and stain removers, there are many companies that test chemicals on animals while developing their cleaning products.
Countless household cleaning products have been tested on animals, from glass cleaners like Windex to bathroom disinfectants like Lysol, from laundry detergents like Tide to dish soaps like Dawn. Luckily, there are many cruelty-free alternatives out there if you are willing to look a little harder and perhaps spend a little more. But if you care about the well-being of animals and supporting companies that believe in the rights of animals to live without suffering, then it’s worth doing a bit more research into what you are buying.
Like to pamper yourself? There is a very good chance that you use products that were tested on animals.
Personal care products should be subject to testing because, like cosmetics, they’re used on human skin. But it shouldn’t be animals who pay the price for our comfort and vanity. Human products should be tested on humans, as we’ll discuss a bit later.
Again, do your research. Look for companies that produce personal hygiene products without testing them on animals first. The more you vote with your wallet, the more big companies will pay attention to what consumers want: cruelty-free consumer products.
Why Animal Testing Needs to Stop
There are obvious reasons why animal testing needs to stop — the cruelty and the unnecessary torture and killing of innocent animals — but there are also many other reasons, which we’ll examine below.
Animal Testing is Unethical and Cruel
This is the most obvious reason, and why so many animal activists around the world protest against and boycott companies that test their products on animals.
Every sentient creature deserves to live a life without suffering at the hands of humans. It’s unconscionable how poorly these animals are treated. If you visit a lab, you’ll see that the animals spend much of their time screaming, trying to escape, or lying miserably on the floors of their cages.
Human beings have evolved as a species. At one time, we might have needed to prey on animals to survive, but that’s not the case anymore. Think of all the technology and devices available to us today, the vast repositories of data found in hard drives all over the world. If we’re still using the same cruel methods to test consumer products, there’s something wrong. We’re either too lazy to innovate or too cruel to recognize that alternatives exist. Animal testing is on the wrong side of history, and I invite you to do your part to actively end it.
It’s Not Necessary
We’ve mentioned chemicals and compounds that adversely impact the human body, whether it’s rashes or hives on the skin, upset stomach, or dizziness, and the truth is we already have a very good understanding of these interactions. By avoiding those chemicals and compounds, we can create consumer products without the need for animal testing. Many substances are natural cleansers, for instance, that preclude the need for harsh chemicals. The same goes for cosmetic formulas.
One trend that needs to be enforced is open sharing of information within industry. If one company recognizes that a chemical can cause adverse effects in humans, it should publish that information. That way, other companies don’t test animals to see how that same chemical reacts with skin, hair, or the inner body.
The Results of Animal Testing Are Not Reliable
While we share lots of characteristics (and even genetic material) with other animals, the biological makeup of humans differs in significant ways. The same is true for creatures throughout the animal kingdom. A disease that can be incredibly deadly to monkeys might not have any impact on frogs or birds. Cats don’t get dogs sick (for the most part) because they’re different species.
There are some unfortunate exceptions to this, such as the pathogens growing on factory farms that jump from livestock to humans, pathogens like swine flu or bird flu (which is why they have these names).
All species are unique and tend to react differently to different diseases, ailments, and chemicals. There’s little reason to believe that just because a rat doesn’t respond to Chemical XYZ, a human being won’t, either. Animal testing does not eliminate the need to understand how something novel affects humans. If animal testing was victimless, it would be merely redundant. But since it is not victimless, it is more cruel than anything else.
There are breeding programs designed specifically to produce animals for testing. These range from rats and rabbits to dogs and monkeys. There are even dog farms in the U.S., dedicated to breeding dogs purely for experimentation. A lot of these animals die. The disposal costs of these dead animals is considerable.
It costs millions to test these animals, retest them, and compare the results to previous tests. And a lot of that wasted money is actually taxpayer money — your money.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
Did you know that there are many different alternatives to animal testing? And did you know that they are often cheaper, quicker, and more effective?
Seems hard to believe, right?
Why would so many companies choose to imprison and harm so many animals if there are other ways to go about testing new products and medicines?
In Vitro Testing
Using human cells instead of live animals is not only a cruelty-free way to test consumer products, medications, and more, but also a more reliable indicator of how that product will interact with human beings. As mentioned above, animals don’t have our exact biological makeup. A harsh chemical might burn rat skin and human skin alike — but it might not.
Essentially, in vitro testing involves testing products on human cells in a test tube or “behind glass.” There’s no cruelty or pain involved with this. Scientists are able to see how human cells react to a product visually and through microscopy.
There is a ton of technology available to us. Computer modeling allows us to see how a human organ or even an entire body will react to a stimulus without putting anyone in danger. Believe it or not, computer modeling of the human body has been around since the 1960s. It began with modeling the human heart. And since then it has of course greatly improved.
Computer modeling is even more effective than animal testing. We have sufficient data to test not only human beings but subsections of the population. For instance, what will be the difference between men and women reacting to a particular product?
Research Using Human Volunteers
Human volunteers can easily reduce or eliminate animal testing in clinical and lab settings. People are more than willing to help find cures for diseases, for instance, or to further the data stores of information about the human body. And because humans have freedom of choice and an understanding of why the testing is happening, including any effects — something the lab animals will never understand — they are much better equipped to cope with it.
In vitro testing is great, but testing human tissues can be even more effective. We can see how many groups of cells, perhaps from different areas of the body, react to chemicals and other products. Technology on this front is advancing rapidly.
What You Can Do
The choice should be simple. Animal testing is a cruel and outdated practice that unnecessarily tortures and kills countless animals every single year. It is perfectly possible to continue with your buying habits without having blood on your hands.
In Colombia, for example, House Representative Juan Carlos Losada introduced a bill before Congress in August of 2018 that will ban animal testing for a wide variety of different products including (but not limited to): cosmetics, cleaning products, and absorbents that are used in tampons and diapers. This is a great initiative, and if passed will likely generate even more momentum outside of Colombia. If this happens, it is likely that other passionate politicians who fight for animal rights around the world will introduce such bills to push for bans on unnecessary animal cruelty. We should, however, expect that the testing industry currently profiting at the expense of animals will fight this progress.
Many companies are adapting to the growing movement that doesn’t use animal testing in the product development process. Hopefully, that number will only grow. As consumers become more educated about where they spend their money and where their products come from (and how they were developed), animal testing will become less common, and people in the future will look back on it as something they can’t believe we used to do.
Do you use products developed with animal testing? Do you plan on researching a bit more before you support companies that test on animals?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.