Stop supporting animal testing and look for cruelty-free products
Today’s animal rights movement has its roots in early 19th century Britain, when the then outlandish notion that animals deserved some protection from cruelty was first mooted. Since that time, awareness has steadily risen; society’s values are now increasingly opposed to animal abuse and, on some fronts, things are changing for the better.
Animal testing started in the 1920s in a move to determine the toxicity or risks associated with various consumer products. Based on 2005 figures, researchers have estimated that 115 million animals are used in experiments worldwide every year, and these numbers have been increasing. A separate guess points to 100 million of these being mice and rats used in US laboratories. Astoundingly, about 51 per cent of all tests are linked to breeding genetically modified animals for research.
When we think about cruelty-free products, cosmetics usually first come to mind. The notorious Draize tests involve dripping a substance into rabbits’ eyes to check for damage, while simultaneously applying it to a patch of the animal’s shaved skin to monitor irritation. Aside from ethical considerations, another argument against the use of the eye test is that several physiological differences exist between the rabbit eye and human eye.
Cosmetics animal testing is now banned, or in the process of being banned, in South Korea, Norway, Israel, the EU, India and the Brazilian state of São Paolo. A recent 2015 New Zealand law against testing was introduced following a two-year campaign. In Australia, where this testing is currently allowed but rarely carried out, 85 per cent of those polled opposed the use of animals in developing cosmetics.
Based on 2005 figures, researchers have estimated that 115 million animals are used in experiments worldwide every year, and these numbers have been increasing.
For a cosmetics company to take a fully cruelty-free position involves a couple of sacrifices. Thousands of existing approved ingredients are considered to be cruelty-free because tests have already been completed but, for new ones, there’s a small number of tests for which a non-animal alternative does not yet exist. It’s difficult or impossible to use labelling such as “new and improved” on genuinely cruelty-free products.
Then there are some countries, most notably Brazil and China, that require all imported cosmetics to be tested on animals. While many of the large corporate players are making impressive-sounding statements about their opposition to testing, animal advocate groups generally don’t give them a green tick unless they steer clear of these markets. Several brands, including Lush and Paul Mitchell, have resolved to keep out of China due to animal welfare considerations.
Industry giants such as L’Oréal and Esteé Lauder face further headaches from an EU rule preventing a product that has been tested in China from being sold in Europe, and which is circumvented by reformulating products for the EU market.
In the cosmetics marketplace, there are three credible third-party accreditation marks. These are Australia’s Choose Cruelty Free (CCF) rabbit symbol, the Cruelty Free International “leaping bunny” and a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) bunny with pink ears in a heart shape. Australians can download a free Choose Cruelty Free app, and New Zealanders can access a similar app from SAFEshopper.
Where manufacturers are concerned, getting accredited by CCF is free. Some accredited companies choose not to pay an extra fee to license the rabbit logo, but are listed on the CCF website.
Consumer advocate body Choice has looked at cruelty-free claims in Australia and has in some cases identified issues and pitfalls:
- Unofficial cruelty-free logos on products that have no third-party oversight.
- Inaccurate cruelty-free claims on company websites.
- The use of ambiguous terms such as “against animal testing”, “finished product not tested on animals” and “tested on us”. Such statements may impress consumers who don’t take a scrutinising approach.
- Even trickier are some products that look as though they have real third-party accreditation but, in fact, do not.
Unfortunately, cosmetics testing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animal cruelty, with far greater numbers of animals used for other purposes. Many of these experiments result in moderate-to-high degrees of suffering, and pain relief is typically not provided because it could distort the test results.
For pharmaceuticals, vaccines, pesticides, chemicals and household products, animal testing is still required in some jurisdictions. This frequently involves the cruel median lethal dose LD50 toxicity test, where the dosage is raised incrementally until half of the animals, usually mice, have died.
However, OECD countries, including Australia and New Zealand, no longer require these tests to be carried out. European microstates Liechtenstein and San Marino have outlawed all animal experiments. In 2013, Israel took a bold step with a ban on the marketing and sale of household products that have been tested on animals in other countries. All major airlines, except Air France (which operates in partnership with KLM), refuse to transport primates to laboratories.
Experiments in Australia & New Zealand
On a worldwide scale, Australia is a disproportionately large user of animals in research, coming fourth behind the US, Japan and China. About 7 million are used annually (around 6 per cent of the world total), of which a few hundred are primates. A 2013 poll carried out by Nexus Research found that 64 per cent of Australians don’t believe humans have the moral right to experiment on animals.
Humane Research Australia is calling for an end to animal experiments and their replacement with non-animal research, plus establishment of a sanctuary for ex-laboratory primates, which are presently killed because giving them a new life is not considered a spending priority.
In New Zealand, testing involving roughly 300,000 animals annually is being challenged by the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS). Given that the compassionate case against animal tests speaks for itself, the group focuses on what it describes as “medical and scientific fraud”. Most research is carried out by universities, the corporate sector and Crown Research Institutes. The NZAVS Out of the Labs campaign is calling for a life for ex-laboratory animals when they are no longer needed.
For a long time, animal advocates and some academics have been arguing that animal experiments are delaying medical progress. In their view, animals respond differently from humans with many substances, and they believe that non-animal tests are more effective. Some pro-vivisection groups, such as Speaking of Research, challenge these conclusions. However, in the pharmaceutical sector, American figures from the US Food & Drug Administration show that 92 per cent of all drugs that showed promising results in animal tests have failed at the human trial stage, either due to safety issues or because of a lack of effectiveness.
Anti-cruelty organisations point to scientific studies that have identified improved results from non-animal testing methods. These can include cell cultures, the creepy-sounding “human reconstructed skin”, computer models and human volunteer studies including brain imaging. Because regulators are by nature conservative, it can take a while for them to approve these alternatives. One avenue being pursued by PETA is to brief government bodies on scientific breakthroughs and new models.
Choosing free range
Animal welfare supporters frequently opt to go vegan. Those who stick with products such as pork, chicken and eggs usually go for the free-range option but, unfortunately, the term “free range” is not always fully defined.
For eggs, restrictive cages roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper are the main issue. In Australia, the lack of a national standard for free-range eggs is creating confusion for consumers, who are unwittingly purchasing products from farms with stocking densities of up to 10,000 birds per hectare. Fortunately, decision-makers resolved in June 2015 that a draft standard would be set by the end of the year.
The best solution is to look for third-party accreditation (by FREPA, Certified Organic, Humane Choice or RSPCA). New Zealand has set a voluntary guideline of maximum 2500 birds per hectare, and lower densities are set by SPCA and organic certifiers.
In free-range pig farming, the animals trade restrictive farrowing crates and sow stalls for open pastures. Similarly, for chickens, free-range birds are given access to the outdoors and beak and toe trimming are generally prohibited. In both cases, third-party accreditation is the solution.
Tackling cruelty in other areas
The number of other forms of animal abuse, such as those below, can seem overwhelming; however, some important gains have, fortunately, been made.
- For students, animal dissection for purposes such as surgical training can be a hot topic. In Australia and New Zealand, educational and training facilities generally provide an opt-out choice.
- Ag-gag bills target whistleblowers filming to expose welfare breaches in animal institutions, and are in place in several US states. Following a series of damaging revelations in the media, these laws have been discussed in Australia but have so far not been passed.
- Illegal live baiting in Australian greyhound racing was recently exposed on the ABC program Four Corners, resulting in widespread sackings at the top of the industry. This involved live possums, piglets and rabbits being dragged around tracks and later being torn to pieces by the dogs. Ag-gag laws, if passed, could have stopped the exposé from being broadcast.
- Mulesing is a painful practice in sheep farming, involving removal of skin from the buttock area to protect against flystrike. Only carried out in Australia on merino sheep, it has led to a PETA boycott campaign focusing on Europe.
- Other undercover PETA footage at shearing sheds in both Australia and the US has revealed violent abuse of sheep and resulted in negative media.
- Angora comes from rabbits that are raised for their fur and is ripped out in a highly painful manner. Roughly 90 per cent of angora wool is produced in China, a country that lacks animal welfare laws. With Benetton ceasing to sell angora in June 2015, nearly all major retailers have turned away from it.
- Real fur, which was considered socially unacceptable in the 1990s, is starting to boom again. Roughly 85 per cent of world production comes from China, where animals, including stolen cats and dogs, are typically skinned alive. Much of the demand is also Chinese, driven by increased affluence.
- Animal circuses are increasingly regarded as inhumane and degrading. Several councils in Australia and New Zealand have banned animal circuses from council-owned land and they are prohibited in several countries.
- Rodeos result in the injury, and sometimes fatalities, of bulls, calves and horses, and can involve “goading” whereby pain is inflicted on an animal to get it to behave in a “wild” fashion.
- Horseracing is stressful and exhausting for the horses involved. Races, especially jumps, can result in injuries, which often lead to the animal being put down.
- While New Zealand has ended live animal exports for slaughter, Australia is continuing with shipments generally involving cattle or sheep in hot, cramped and dirty conditions. Repeated instances of shocking video footage of inhumane abattoir practices in the destination countries have seen renewed calls for live exports to stop.
Cruelty Free Super, based in Australia and the only investment fund of its type, screens out a wide range of animal-related activities that are either cruel or cost animal lives. The fund’s other negative screens are armaments, human rights issues, disproportionate environmental damage and tobacco.
Most employees in Australia have the right to nominate their super fund or switch funds. New Zealand citizens can also join, although currency conversion is a hassle, and currency exchange risks need to be taken into account.
Looking to a compassionate future
Animal welfare groups that confine themselves to peaceful lobbying, unmoved by the occasional spurious accusation of being “extremists”, are continuing to stand up for creatures that have no voice and few rights. Incremental gains continue to be made in phasing out cruelty, and some practices that were once widely accepted have now lost their social licence. As consumers, we have the power to keep progressing these reforms.