Inflicting any kind of pain on the voiceless is deemed as cruelty. Animal cruelty is a global issue that is growing at an alarming rate daily. Animals are subject to starvation and torture such as beating, harassing, kicking and running over deliberately, which result in the death of millions of animals every year. Cruelty need not be and is not restricted to the above points. Cruelty can even be laboratory testing where animals are subject to indiscriminate sacrifice by many companies for their research. Abandonment and mistreatment is another form of abuse that animals go through. In view of these disheartening facts, this article brings to light the most predominant issue which is animal testing.
With scientific methodologies and processes, research has become a part of the culture, so it is said. This is all well and good until something has to undergo pain and suffering. Let us take the example of a company manufacturing hair care products. The reader may have observed that if a drop of the said product goes into his or her eyes, it won’t inflict any pain – why? This is because as part of the company’s rules and regulations, a cosmetic or drug that has to come into the market has to go through phases of testing. Before the human trials, the products are tested on the voiceless animals, which is called a pre-clinical study. The pre-clinical study will in most cases be the pedestal to human testing that earns a patent and a big grant from funding agencies.
In order to assure the safety of humans, companies test their products on animals. Monkeys, mice, rats, dogs and cats are subject are candidates in this research and are subject to unimaginable pain. The experience is traumatizing. These animals endure burns, hair loss, rashes and gashes, blindness, organ failure and decapitation. Companies choose to the extent of blinding a dog’s eyes or inflicting metal rods in an animal’s head. Researchers justify this by saying, “It is all part of science and development.” Monopoly plays a role. If these cosmetics and drugs are not tested on animals the data becomes completely obscure and it will not win a patent. As patents and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) go hand in hand, companies will be forced to go ahead with testing if they want the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to allow the export of the product. Furthermore, certain countries have strict guidelines with respect to animal testing and will not allow any product to enter the country without pre-clinical data. This spirals off a lower growth of the company and would seemingly be at the crossroads. However, there are still players across the globe who do away with animal testing yet have a good turnover and ROI (Return on Investment). Why is that? This is because of increased awareness amongst people about what goes inside a company. People now prefer to buy cosmetics and other products that have the leaping bunny symbol. Increased compassion, awareness and product safety has led to companies making a huge wave with respect to cruelty-free products.
How are policymakers going to resolve this issue? As we are all aware, there is definitely a need for pre-clinical data before the drug or cosmetic hits the market. What one could do is to see that there is an alternative to animal testing. In fact, is animal testing going to yield the same effect on humans? Let’s date back to the Thalidomide tragedy. This drug was designed to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. The drug passed the pre-clinical trial which was done on rodents, canines and primates. During human testing, a huge problem occurred. Women who were given this medication gave birth to limbless babies. The pre-clinical trial failed to explain a very important concept called hepatotoxicity (Drug being toxic to the growing embryo). Therefore, what was assumed as ‘safe’ during animal testing backfired during the human trials. The drug was withdrawn from the market and the company suffered a huge financial loss. So the question is will the results of animal testing escalate to human trials. After all, there is a 99% genetic similarity between animals and humans but that 1% sure is a humongous difference.
There are other companies out there that do not use animals for testing purpose (popularly known as Cruelty-Free Products) for the development of their products. These products are still bought by all. The sample list of companies out there that do not indulge in this activity include – Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, Alba Botanica, Trader’s Joe, Pangea Organics, Lotus Herbals, etc. These companies sell lip glosses, chapsticks, hair care products, perfumes and makeup products and don’t use animals to test their products. There are people who choose to purchase these products. The more people who choose to buy Cruelty-Free Products will encourage mainstream companies to choose the cruelty-free route when testing their products. This just shows that one can make products without the need for testing on animals.
According to Mel Hanson, $14 billion moves out of the taxpayer’s hand annually due to animal testing. Despite this spend, pre-clinical trials may not give concrete results according to certain agencies and authorities. In addition, about 30% of the animals suffer irreversible organ failure during testing phase. Lastly, over 98% of drugs tested on animals are never sold in stores.
So, should we sacrifice animals for the sake of bringing a drug or cosmetic into the market? Well, there are alternatives. Cell culture and the development of organoids (3D printing of organs), and computational biology has given more choices to do away with indiscriminate animal testing. These may sound more expensive and the investment will be high. But it would definitely add to sustainability efforts to preserve Mother Nature.
– Tejus Narayan
Picture Credits: sparkmed.stanford.edu / shutterstock