A cruel world: The truth behind animal testing and being cruelty-free


Government action 

Passed in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was the first federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers. However, the law still fails to cover over 99% of animals tested upon today, despite being amended 8 times in the past 56 years. Animals such as mice, rats, birds, invertebrates, fish, farm animals, amphibians and reptiles are not covered by the AWA. This means that laboratories are not required to report these animals or any other species not protected by the AWA. 

“The Animal Welfare Act is like a band-aid for a bigger issue. While we see more animals being covered in the updated 2006 Act, there are still living creatures that fall through the cracks and that companies exploit,” junior Megan Schneider said. 

The U.S. government has tasked numerous agencies with overseeing the tests performed, along with treatment of the animals. The Public Health Service oversees two federal agencies responsible for most testing on animals: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agencies require written assurance of compliance through the Office of Laboratory Welfare, which dictates vertebrate animal care in federally funded laboratories. 

The agencies are frequently criticized for an extreme lack of enforcement, inadequate oversight, and failure to carry out follow-up or on-site inspection of facilities after a violation has occurred. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) are also heavily scrutinized for their additional absence of prosecution against violators and scarce protection of animals being tested upon. 

Animal testing

Many believe the lack of strong legislation against animal testing is at fault for the more than 110 million animals killed each year in U.S. laboratories. This lack of enforcement is what senior Liliana Vargas holds accountable for the ineffectiveness of policies that have been set. According to the Humane Society International (HSI), animals will undergo numerous procedures “for purposes of research into basic biology and diseases, assessing the effectiveness of new medicinal products, and testing the human health and/or environmental safety of consumer and industry products such as cosmetics, household cleaners, food additives, pharmaceuticals and industrial/agro-chemicals.”  

During these tests, animals may undergo food and water deprivation, prolonged periods of physical restraint, genetic manipulation, forced exposure to chemicals or infectious diseases, infliction of wounds or burns to study healing, infliction of pain to study physiology, ear-notching and tail-clipping for identification, behavioral experiments designed to induce distress, manipulations to create mirror diseases such as cancer, stroke, or depression, and death.

Companies can be involved in animal testing on five levels. While rare today, companies may test their finished products before putting them on the market. Some companies will place a “finished product not tested on animals” label on their product; nonetheless this does not mean they are cruelty-free. For instance, companies may test new or altered ingredients before putting it in their product. It is important to note that despite a company not personally testing on animals, they can still be responsible for animal testing. 

Illustration of animal testing by MakDarrow

Countless companies will either label themselves as “cruelty-free” despite buying ingredients from suppliers who test on animals, or be owned by a parent company that performs animal tests. When talking about parent companies, it’s imperative to know that a company may remain cruelty-free after being bought by a bigger brand that is not cruelty-free. The last level of animal testing surrounds third parties. For example, any company that sells their product in mainland China will indirectly finance animal testing. While a growing amount of more than 41 countries have banned animal testing, China requires most foreign companies to test their finished cosmetics products before selling in their market. 

A common argument amongst those in support of animal testing is that scientists should continue to test products on animals before a product can enter the market to ensure the safety of humans. When an animal is harmed by a product, the product can still be sold to consumers. On the flip side, a product that was proven to be safe in animals does not mean it will be safe in humans. “I always think of it as if I was the animal, would I want to be poked and prodded just to make someone’s skin soft?” sophomore Kamarra Howard-Foster said.  

“95% of drugs tested on animals fail in human patients,” HSI said. It’s for this reason that despite over 85 HIV/AIDS vaccines showing great success in nonhuman primate studies, they failed in protecting humans. One AIDS vaccine shown to be successful in monkeys, not only failed to prevent the development of AIDS in humans, but increased susceptibility to the disease in some cases. According to the Humane Society of the United States, despite invasive experiments in the U.S. ending in 2015, “280+ chimpanzees are still waiting to be moved out of labs and into sanctuaries.”

A growing number of labs have turned to alternate methods whose results are increasingly accurate. By using microfluidic chip testing (microfluidic chips made of tissue samples from throughout the body linked by micro channels for blood flow), silico models (advanced computer modeling techniques), microdosing, imaging studies, tissue bioprinting, human volunteers and patient simulators, nearly all animal testing can be replaced.

“Now that there are alternate methods, we should try those. Animals are put through the tests even though they don’t work, and that isn’t right,” freshman Jasmine Carranza said. Using alternate methods is crucial to decreasing the amount of inhumane treatment and animal cruelty in laboratories.

Animal cruelty and cruelty-free

Animal cruelty is the infliction by humans of suffering or harm upon any animal. In order for a company to be certified as cruelty-free, they must “not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations, or finished products and that they pledge not to do so in the future,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said.

PETA is one of three charities and nonprofits whose cruelty-free certification is valid and deeply researched. Another non-profit is Leaping Bunny. “I love using Leaping Bunny. Their website is easy to understand and they offer ways to get involved,” Schneider said.

Leaping Bunny, also referred to as the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, was formed by eight national animal protection groups. Leaping Bunny formed in response to companies “designing their own bunny logos, abiding by their own definition of ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘animal friendly’ without the participation of animal protection groups,” Leaping Bunny said. The final dependable charity is Choose Cruelty Free.

Education and change 

“As someone who only uses cruelty-free products, it takes loads of research to find out if brands are truly cruelty-free,” Schneider said. This is one reason it is crucial to know the PETA, Choose Cruelty Free, and Leaping Bunny logos to prevent falling for elaborate marketing schemes as Leaping Bunny previously stated. Companies remain legally free to declare anything regarding animal testing in their labels, due to claims not being regulated by the FDA. 

Cruelty-Free Kitty and HSI are also great resources to learn more about animal testing, being cruelty-free, and substituting animal tested products for cruelty-free ones. “I look on the Cruelty-Free Kitty website when I want to look for information,” Vargas said. HSI even had a viral short film, “Save Ralph” that used stop-motion animation to tell the story of a tester rabbit.

“It really hurt my soul because it’s brutally honest. Animals think it’s normal for them to go through it because they have never experienced anything else,” Carranza said. “It made me stop and think what these poor animals must feel every day of their lives. It opened my eyes,” Vargas said. Although it was hard to watch at times due to realistic and gruesome depictions, Carranza and Vargas recommend others watch the film.

There are several ways to join the fight to end animal testing. Common ways are by shopping cruelty-free and signing petitions calling for change in legislation. A more direct approach would be to call out companies that test or falsely claim to be cruelty-free, demand government agencies enforce set policies to protect these animals, and encourage alternate methods of testing to all companies.

Companies deceive, consumers believe

(Cartoon headline)
Editorial Cartoon by Liv Birnstihl

“Many people who see the typical leaping bunny symbol don’t question its validity any further.” 

– Sophomore Tee Kuon

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