Animals tested for food? Yes and the variety of products is shocking. The practice is rampant and does not exclude India. Take Hindustan Unilever, for instance. According to PETA India, the company that sells tea (Lipton and Brooke Bond), recently agreed to end ghastly practices such as cutting up rat intestines and forcing tea ingredients via tubes into their throats.
This month, PETA found that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were using rodents to test a type of yoghurt to see how a probiotic diet affects obesity, with the bizarre if not painful result of increased testes size in mice by 5 per cent. Animals are used to administer food or supplements orally and test for side-effects. They are also used to develop vaccines for livestock to ensure that meats we consume are safe. The demand for healthier food products (like granola bars, digestive or anti-diabetic biscuits, healthier cooking oil) has also led to a surge in experimentation of food products on animals. In some cases, the animal is fed and then killed to investigate where the product has concentrated and how it affects the organs.
Pesticides, food products and chemicals are frequently tested using animals. The substance is administered orally, applied on the skin, dripped into the animal’s eyes, injected into muscles or the animal is made to inhale it forcibly in a chamber – all to test toxicity. Although the practice has its obvious advantages, animal activists are fighting for more humane ways of carrying out these tests in animals.
This is the single most important justification for animal testing that the scientific community all over the globe has backed. Before a medicine is tested on humans, in preclinical trials, the animal is fed with varying amounts of the drug to test its toxicity and effect. Animals are used to test vaccines – for instance – this year, the US Food and Drug Administrationapproved drug Levaquin, made by Johnson and Johnson, was tested on African green monkeys for the treatment of plague. Although the most productive aspect of animal testing, medical research is also the most macabre and is receiving stiff opposition from the public and activists alike.
Where do we draw the line?
As consumers, we need to consider whether we are willing to make animals endure extreme pain for the sake of using better products. Would you use a cosmetic or hygiene product if it were animal tested? Do you need to? That’s the important question. Having said that, it cannot be overlooked that certain tests cannot be run on humans – like those of a plague bacteria. We also need to keep in mind the incomparable advances in medicine for serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetics and organ transplantation. Animal testing has arguably propelled several advances in such research. But where does one draw the line between testing and torture?
Make animal testing humane
Too often, researchers use a ‘surplus’ of animals for testing, something that can easily be avoided. Scientists can try to use as few animals and as infrequently as possible. Indeed, not every product requires an animal to be tested; they can instead use epidemiologic data, surveys, computer modelling, organ perfusion, and in vitro tests involving cell and tissue culture. The biggest problem with animal testing as of now is the kind of environment and the conditions of living they are introduced to. Small cages that restrict movement, and even cause disfigurement, can be avoided. Researchers can ensure adequate space, quality food, and a comfortable environment for the animals.
Last month, the Indian government banned experimentation on animals for training college and university students – a step that was lauded by many. It asked research and educational institutions to use training alternatives such as computer-aided simulators. This month, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, assured the representatives of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (Fiapo) that the ministry will take necessary steps to phase out animal testing on cosmetic products.
Many institutions are taking similar steps to reduce animal testing at least to make it more humane. For instance, the Wirral Council in UK has banned cleaning products tested on animals, an initiative that can easily be adopted by India. You and I, meanwhile, can pitch in by finding out which products we use involve testing on animals and not buy them. Social media is a great way to spread this message against animal testing. Think about it: would you kill another human for a better heart? Then why is an animal’s life any less precious?
Possibly the most well known and controversial area of animal testing, cosmetic testing has been in the news forever and is always under the media scanner. Although the European Union banned it in 2009, the practice is rampant across the world. The reason it garners much flak from activists is because the purpose in the end is to “look good” when testing leaves animals in a lot of pain, discomfort and even causes death. As per PETA, some of the brands that use animals to test products are L’oreal, Avon, Dove, Sunsilk, Ponds and Neutrogena.