In recent years, animal testing is becoming more and more shunned upon. Despite what many think, refusing to test on animals doesn’t mean that humans are put at risk or that the medical progress is being halted. On the contrary, this can improve not only ethics but also the quality of science and beauty industry.
The development of alternatives to animal testing is growing. In a lot of areas, testing on animals has been completely replaced. Today, fields such as neuroscience, toxicity testing, and drug effectiveness can be completed without hurting another living being.
In fact, the main reason why animal testing is still being used isn’t scientific, but rather conservatism. People usually hate risking and avoid stopping practices that have been done in the past. Just think about terrible tests that you can see in the movie, where animals are being burned alive or inhumanely electrocuted or cut to pieces while still alive. A while ago, scientists were against banning such practices as well, even though today we know how many things can be achieved without such drastic measures. Let’s not even begin discussing the bureaucracy that follows every new method! However, there are many reasons why we should embrace all these alternatives to animal testing.
Why is Animal Testing an Ethical Issue?
There is still an ongoing debate about the ethics of conducting animal testing. Animal lovers claim that all animal testing should be banned because animals aren’t merely a tool for us to use. They claim that animals should have the same rights as humans, at least when it comes to living a full, pain-free life. On the other side, some people don’t dispute that it is cruel to sacrifice or hurt animals for our benefit but claim it to be necessary as this helped the rise of science. In the end, many useful things were discovered by experimenting on animals, and we can debate whether or not the life of a few animals is more worthy than mankind. A part of this group even claims that animals can live a rather healthy life even while in the laboratory and urge scientists to use anesthesia and trained personnel. There is even a middle ground, which is mostly constructed of people who are against animal cruelty, but believe that, in certain situations, an exception has to be made.
Truth is, most alternative methods are more precise, and thus more useful than animal testing. However, no method is without flaws and this debate lies mostly on moral principles and emotions of a person.
Which animals are used for testing?
According to recent studies, most animals that are used in laboratories are guinea pigs, and they make up 22% of the total number. Behind them are rabbits (17%), and right after them are hamsters (11%). However, despite the overall number of animals that are bred for testing is decreasing, the number of dogs and sheep used is rising. Around 20% of animals used are either in the ‘all other covered species’ category, which consists of bats, ferrets, gerbils, and chinchillas, or ‘other farm animals’, such as horses and goats.
Keep in mind that this research doesn’t include animals that aren’t regulated by AWA, such as fish, rats, mice, and birds. It is assumed that they comprise around 93% of all animals that are used in labs, but the exact number isn’t known.
Is animal testing required by law?
Although animal testing isn’t required by the law in most developed countries, such as the US or EU, some governments still do require these tests. Specifically, this is mostly done for testing the toxicity of drugs, pesticides, medical devices, industrial chemicals, GMO food, and similar. Even more countries require this as a condition for importation. Currently, China requires tests on animals for all imported cosmetics, no matter where they were produced. There is a regulation that is still in draft form which would, if passed, allow companies that sell non-specialized used cosmetics to be imported without animal testing. The problem with this is that many brands that claim to be cruelty-free, still sell in China, which means that their products end up being tested on animals.
Another concerning fact is that there is no definition of ‘cruelty-free’ according to law. This allows many brands to manipulate the term, as, despite the finished product not being tested, ingredients still might have caused harm to animals.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
Modern science has enabled us to have many alternatives to animal testing. Animals are no longer required in any science field.
It is possible to grow almost every type of animal and human cell in the laboratory. It is even possible to grow certain organs, which can provide a realistic way to conduct many tests. Human cells can be grown and used instead of alive (or dead) animals to study the progress of diseases and drugs. In fact, a way to artificially create devices that can mimic heart, lung, gut, and kidney has already been invented. In just a few decades, science will most likely find a way to grow a whole human of sorts. This is a humane way to get organs and skin without hurting another living being.
Donated Human Tissues
Another method that is already being used is using donated human tissues, both healthy and diseased, in vitro. The tissue used is usually skin donated after cosmetic surgery, transplants but also biopsies. Scientists can use this tissue to make skin and eye models, which can replace Draize’s test that requires using rabbits to check the toxicity of certain substances. There are companies, such as CellSystems GmbH, Mattek, and Episkin, that mass-produce these tests to make it easier for companies to gather samples and test their cosmetics or other various ingredients and substances.
Use of Modern Computers
Modern computers can replicate various aspects of the human body and organs. This can further help to conduct experiments in an extremely controlled environment.
Also, advances in technology have made it possible to conduct a lot of tests on human volunteers, in complete safety. This can be done by modern scanning machines and recording techniques. For example, there are brain machine interface devices that can show you the inside of the brain and how it reacts when exposed to various substances. This also makes it easy to compare, as you can always have a ‘healthy’ individual nearby for comparison.
Microdosing is one of the newer techniques that is frequently used on volunteers, especially when researching drugs. This includes microdoses of drugs that are injected into human volunteers and then measured with an accelerator mass spectrometer, a sensitive measuring device that can notice even minor changes in blood or saliva.
Some other alternatives include the 3T3 Neutral Red Uptake Phototoxicity Test, which can replace the use of small animals such as mice in research which tries to find how will a certain drug react to sunlight, Fish Threshold Method, which is a safer way to check the chemical concentration that might be deadly to fish, and Permeability Test, The Bovine Corneal Opacity and Isolated Chicken Eye Test, which use animals slaughtered for the meat industry instead of living rabbits for various testing.
Cost of animal testing versus Alternatives
Believe it or not, most alternative methods are much cheaper and faster than animal testing. Some tests that have been done on animals take months, or even years, to fully analyze, and can end up costing millions of dollars per examined substance. On the other hand, computer modeling techniques are extremely fast and can usually be done in hours or weeks, while many cell-based in vitro methods can be automated, which is a lot cheaper than animal tests. For example, Draize rabbit skin test, which is used to see whether or not some component is irritable to the skin, costs around $1,800, while EpiDerm’s human skin model costs only $850. Some hormonal tests cost up to $30,000 when being done on animals, but in vitro tests cost $7,200. This is just another huge advantage when it comes to alternative methods.
Despite some people still worrying whether or not science can advance at the same pace without animal testing, current research proves that cruelty-free methods are not only cheaper but more precise. In modern age and time, there is no excuse not to stop animal testing. This will not only save the lives of our furry friends, but it will most likely help science to improve. If you want to start purchasing cruelty-free products, look for the Leaping Bunny label as this is the only certified method to prove the product has been completely made without harming another living being.