I was at the dentist yesterday which got me thinking, are the cavity fillings vegan? What is in it? With my mouth half numb and the sound of drilling surrounding me I did not have the time, or french capability, to ask exactly what the substances inserted into my teeth were made of.
The vegan lifestyle seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation and cruelty of animals. While I have been living a plant based diet, I have not yet transitioned to eliminating all products which have exploited animals.
One of the main examples, excluding leather which I will talk about at a later date, is my cosmetics and medicines. I have make up products in my cupboard which I decided I rather use up than throw away. I think it would be more wasteful and disrespectful to the animals to throw out unused make up, creams, lotions and shampoos.
There are fantastic websites such as Vegan Essentials which have personal care, beauty, vitamins and everything you might need as a vegan. I have looked through it many times but have yet to purchase anything.
These vegan websites did get me thinking, how are these vitamins and cosmetics tested? I’ve grown up knowing testing on animals as a standard.
Animal Testing For and Against
Animal testing is comprised of millions of mice, rats, rabbits, primates, cats and dogs are locked in cages in laboratories across the world. All these animals live in isolation and develop neurotic behaviours such as incessantly spinning in circles, rocking back and forth and pulling out their own fur. 100 million animals suffer and die every year in chemical, drug, food, cosmetic tests, medical training exercises and university experiments. These tests include toxic fumes, force feeding pesticides, and dripping corrosive chemicals into their eyes. If you want to have a look at some of the images, there are myriads online. The key thing that shocked me :
Even if a product harms animals, it can be marketed to consumers.
So what is the point? Especially, even if a product has been shown to be safe to animals, does not mean it is safe for humans.
This is one of the main reasons why so many companies have moved away from animal testing. While some of the experimentation conducted on animals today is required by law, testing bans in the European Union, India and Israel have been implemented on cosmetic testing.
So How come testing on animals has become such as staple? There must be reasons for why it has been the primary source of testing for medicines, cosmetics and similar.
Benefits of Animal Testing
When looking around the web, there is a myriad of reasons for animal testing. A 2011 poll of nearly 1,000 biomedical scientists conducted by the science journal Nature found that more than 90% agreed that the use of animals in research is essential.
Animal research has contributed to major advanced in treating conditions including breast cancer, childhood leukemia, cystic fibrosis, malaria, multiple sclerosis and tuberculosis. The list extends to pacemakers, cardiac valve substitutes and anesthetics.
There is no denying it has provided enormous advanced in the medical industry, but why test on animals?
For a drug to be properly evaluated for side effects, it requires a circulatory system to carry the drug through all the organs. This is part of the reason why computer models can only be reliable once they are set up from animal research. Animals are genetically similar to humans with chimpanzees sharing 99% of their DNA with humans, while mice share 98%. Testing on animals has become standard to avoid the ethical consideration of testing on human subjects.
Another benefits of using animals as test subjects is that mice, for example, have much shorter life spans. They live for two to three years making it easier to observe effects of treatments over an entire lifespan or several generations.
Animal research has been regulated by Animal Welfare Act since 1996 and all propositions to use animals for research have to be approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use committee set up by each research facility in the USA.
Its for the animals too!
Animal testing has not only benefited human medicine, it has also helped pets, livestock and endangered species.
Animal testing has helped the development of vaccines, antiobiotics, anesthetics, surgical procedures now all employed in veterinary medecine. Many treatments have been made specifically for animals, including vaccines for canine parvovirus, rabies, leukemia and heartworm infestetations. Pets, livestock and animals in zoos live longer and lead healthier lives due to animal research.
In Australia, Koalas were dying quickly due to an epidemic of chlamydia. This has caused them to become listed as endangered in several regions of Australia. Koalas are now being tested with various chlamydia vaccines to help slow their plummeting populations. (the koalas are also dying out due being killed by dogs and cats, but that’s a separate issue.)
A different strain of chlamydia infects Koalas and can spread sexually, causing some part of Australia having infection rates at around 90%. Even baby koalas, joeys, pick it up from suckling from their mothers in the pouch. Chlamydia causes blindless and infertility in koalas and can be fatal.
Non animal test methods
Testing on animals has been proven to be inapplicable to humans and due to the cruelty and expense scientists have been trying to find alternative methods to ensure product quality.
Some of these alternatives include :
- In vitro ( test tube) test methods and models based on human cell and tissue cultures
- Stem cell and genetic testing
- Computer models can simulate diseases to help understand the way different substances can be used to treat humans.
- Non-insvasive imaging techniques including MRIs and CT scans
- Microdosing on humans (this means humans are given very low quantities of a drug to test the effects on the body on a cellular level.
Benefits of non-animal testing
- Alternative scientific tests are more reliable than animal tests
- Non-Animal tests are more cost-effective and practical
- Cruelty free products are more environmentally friendly
While animals and humans do share a lot of DNA this does not mean that they will react to substances in the same manner. The connection between glass fibers and cancer was missed in the experiments on rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, monkeys, and baboons. In vitrotests were found more accurate in identifying chemical skin irritants while tests on rabbits miss- classifieds 10 out of 25 chemicals.
Instead of using the “Lethal Dose 50” test which makes animals ingest toxic and lethal substances where 50% of test subjects die Dr. Bjorn Ekwall developed a replacement with an increased accuracy by 20%! This test used donated human tissue instead of animal. The test also allows targeting specific human organs and gather precise information unavailable from animal deaths.
In toxicity testing, researchers breed, test and dispose of millions of animals as pathogenic or hazardous waste. Therefore non animal testing is more environmentally friendly.
So What Should We Do?
Should we eliminate all animal-tested products from our life? What about the life saving medicines? Animal testing was a integral part of the growth of science and medicine. Is it possible to avoid all these products now? Maybe. But the many years of medicine now would make it nearly impossible to distinguish which products do not have a dark history in animal testing.
Personally, I think I have a long way to go before all the products I use are vegan friendly. I am still finishing off my non vegan cosmetics, cleaning products and hair products. I can’t help but having my main motivation behind changing to a vegan lifestyle is primarily motivated my the environment. Maybe 2017 will be the year when compassion takes a more forward step.