Animal Testing: Activists Call for a Ban [PCRM]
Last month, California lawmakers passed the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Resolution. With significant bipartisan support, the resolution urges the United States Congress to enact reasonable deadlines for nationwide prohibition of animal testing and requests that the federal government mandate testing alternatives whenever available and effective. The state passed a similar law in 2000, setting the precedent for New Jersey and New York to later follow in their footsteps. At the federal level, the Humane Cosmetics Act has been introduced. Although advocates admit it is unlikely to be signed, if passed it would lead to a phasing out of animal testing for U.S.-made cosmetics within a year, and imported cosmetics within three years.
Estimates suggest that over 100 million animals are killed each year as a result of animal testing. However, the numbers may actually be much higher since the most widely used animals are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, and therefore often go uncounted. These animals include: mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
The End of Animal Testing?
Internationally, the pressure to end animal testing for cosmetics is already increasing. The practice is banned in the European Union, India, Israel, and Norway. Norman Baker, the UK minister in charge of regulating animal experiments, is aiming to push the law even further with extended bans that would completely prohibit animal testing. In Brazil, Congress recently passed a bill that will ban most animal tests for cosmetics with a full prohibition within the next five years. New Zealand similarly has a ban on animal testing for cosmetics. The Labour party, one of the country’s two major political parties, announced that they will also ban the import of animal-tested products if they win the upcoming election. The European Union phased out imported cosmetics tested on animals in 2013.
Data from Humane Society International indicates that a majority of respondents in six regions around the world are opposed to animal testing for cosmetics.
Although not as progressive as laws passed by other nations, Vietnam is moving in a similar direction with a ban the use of the Draize rabbit eye test for cosmetics, which involves applying a substance directly to the eye of a rabbit and observing the effects for 2 weeks. Animals with irreversible damage are euthanized. Many activists view this as cruel, and it is still legal in the United States.
China is also moving to limit animal-tested cosmetics. Until recently, animal testing was a requirement for cosmetics manufactured in the country. Thanks to new regulations, manufacturers have the option of choosing from alternatives.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
Acting as a coordinator for the development of chemical testing protocols, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) model for alternatives to animal testing have been adopted by more than 30 countries. These methods include laboratory grown reconstructions of skin models, which allow researchers to mimic potential dangers more accurately than testing on animals while avoiding harming these animals.
Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is also breaking ground in artificial substitutes for testing. Their newly developed ‘organs-on-a-chip’ devices contain living cells that mimic organ-level physiology. The institute hopes to make these commercially available for a variety of uses, including cosmetics testing.
The Wyss Institute’s human organs-on-chips team has used the lung-on-a-chip (pictured) to study drug toxicity and potential new therapies. The technology will be commercialized to accelerate development of pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic, and personalized medicine products.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [PCRM] tens of thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and rats are killed to test cosmetics in the United States alone each year. While banning use of animals in cosmetics testing is a good start, many advocates hope to see regulations extend to research, testing, and education.