By Christie Lagally
Originally published in City Living Seattle
August 2, 2013
The practice of testing cosmetics, medications, procedures or treatments on non-human animals can be a truly disturbing topic, and it is one that recently made headlines all over the world.
This year, the European Union (EU) and the country of India banned the sale of all cosmetics that have been tested on animals, thereby shunning the practice as unacceptable. The EU furthered its commitment to avoid the practice by contributing 238 million Euros (about $308 million USD) to fund alternatives to animal testing.
Similarly, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced the release of more than 300 chimpanzees held in medical laboratories, although 50 chimps will remain. The United States and Gabon are the only two countries that still test on chimpanzees, but this release is a step in the right direction.
Back in Seattle, animals subjected to medical or cosmetic testing have not been so lucky. The University of Washington (UW) regularly tests medical procedures on primates, rabbits, mice and pigs. The university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) reviews these experiments. These meetings are open to the public, and local resident Claudine Erlandson has been attending IACUC meetings for 25 years, “to keep a watchful eye on the activities of these researchers.
“It can be quite disturbing sometimes,” Erlandson said, “because they are not just performing one experiment on one animal. Often, the same monkey will undergo multiple experiments, repeatedly.”
Erlandson takes careful notes and recounted how pain medication is sometimes not used for the animals undergoing experiments.
Not subject to review
Extensive animal testing also occurs at the Everett-based Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL), where they test on young primates and household dogs. This private facility is not subject to review by public committee but has been noted for egregious practices such as “fail[ing] to implement standard operating procedures in laboratory study methods that are adequate to insure the quality and integrity of the data” and “fail[ing] to adequately inspect, clean and maintain equipment,” according to a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Naturally, concerned citizens who see no purpose to test on animals frequently protest SNBL — especially when study results are suspect.
Many people assume that animal testing is necessary to further medical research or to protect consumers. The EU and India have shown that the alternatives to animal testing are plentiful for consumer products.
Similarly, bioengineers, including Harvard researchers at the Wyss Institute, have developed “organ-on-a-chip” technology, where microscope slides are fitted with living human cells from the lungs, heart or the intestines.
“To test a drug, the researchers simply add a solution of the compound to the chip and see how the intestinal (or heart or lung) cells react,” writes Sebastian Anthony on ExtremeTech.com (June 2012).
Medical research on animals has also been shown to be misleading or to provide data that is not applicable to human physiology, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (pcrm.org).
Seattle resident Amy Webster knows this story all too well. Last November, Webster began a battle with breast cancer that she eventually won with the help of the drug Taxol.
“Taxol — a powerful chemo drug which I was given — was pulled off the market for many years because it was ineffective in treating the cancer we infected animals with. Yet, today doctors and scientists regard it as one of the most effective drugs in curing cancer in humans. I’m an example of its effectiveness,” Webster explained.
Webster points to the American Breast Cancer Foundation, Keep A Breast Foundation, Breast Cancer Fund and Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation as examples of organizations that do research on treating cancer without the use of animals.
Making conscious choices
Consumers have the choice to avoid supporting animal testing. The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics at LeapingBunny.org lists cruelty-free companies providing everything from household products to pet supplies. The list is expansive, and we have lots of options to avoid animal testing if we simply make the choice to do so.
Several Seattle-based companies are listed on leapingbunny.org, including Polish Cosmetics in Ballard. Founder and owner Laura A. Fahey explains that her line of handcrafted eye shadows are both vegan and not tested on animals, as well as certified by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (peta.org).
“We have centuries of information on the ingredients we use. We find new ways to combine them for a quality product,” Fahey said.
It is time to end the practice of experimenting on the most vulnerable members of our community: animals. Supporting the alternatives in both medical and product research may require that each of us make conscious choices about the products we buy and the organizations we support.
But the result of those choices is a world where medical data is applicable to humans and where we no longer struggle to resolve the ethical incompatibility of animal testing with our inherent love of animals.