Animal Testing 101

Testing on animals has been widely practiced over the last one hundred years. Many nations publicly detail their use on animals, however, many others keep these practices out of the public eye.

It is best to begin this topic by noting the types of tests that animals are subjected to in laboratories. Cosmetic testing is one of the primary tests consumers hear about. Testing is also used for household cleaners, food additives, pharmaceuticals and industrial/agro-chemicals and have been the basis for food, drug, and chemical safety standards for over a century. Many of the tests involve the forced exposure to chemicals such as forced feeding or injections, but also can involve manipulation of genetic structure by adding or subtracting genes, infliction of pain and surgical procedures to study psychological effects and healing, and forced distress like electric shocks to test behavior.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States suggests that companies do their due diligence to consider alternative methods prior to testing on animals, but does not prohibit testing. America is often considered the largest tester of animals by sheer volume. Globally, rough estimates say that over 118 million animals were subject to some type of testing in 2012 alone, and a number that is admittedly underestimated.

The True Numbers
This 118 million figure is underestimated due to many factors. The most important being that many animals that undergo tests are not required to be reported s, such as in the US where about 95% of tested animals go unreported because labs do not have  to report mice, rats, birds, fish, or reptiles. Canada only reports animals used in labs receiving government funding. Japan has a self-regulatory system and doesn’t conduct surveying of animal usage. Almost every country has limitations to their reported number. A recent estimate from 2012 put the US at around 22 million animals tested on annually, a far cry from the 1.1 million that was reported (and even further, some reports put the amount of rats and mice tested on in excess of 100 million in the US alone). See the table below for the statistics from countries who publicly release their annual reports. As you will see, these reported numbers do little to tell us the full story.

Country # of Animals Used (in millions)
Australia (2015) 9.9
Canada (2016) 4.3
EU (2011) 11.5
New Zealand (2015) .225
United Kingdom (2016) 3.9
United States (2016) .820

The Cruelty Free Campaign
A global campaign is being waged against chemical companies, beauty and cosmetics brands, and governing and regulatory bodies to end animal cruelty and testing on animals. Many companies have pledged to end these practices, and purchase products that have already been tested in humans, which eliminates the need for animal testing to begin with. While 80% of countries still allow forms of cosmetic testing on animals, progress is being made. A variety of cosmetics brands, including well known brands like Lush, Aveda, E.L.F., are offering vegan and cruelty free items, and animal rights groups are pushing regulatory bodies to prohibit the testing of animals. So far, 28 nations have started this process or completely banned cosmetic animal testing. India, Israel, New Zealand, and the European Union are at the forefront, nationally banning the sale of any cosmetics products or ingredients which were tested on animals. Public support is behind the growing number of cosmetics bans, as the majority of constituents support them. Celebrities have even gotten into the thick of the debate – with Actor/Comedian Ricky Gervais and Dr. Jane Goodall launching a campaign to advocate for a worldwide cosmetics ban.

Startling figures and consequences of animal testing
Misconceptions exist about the use of testing on animals in society, especially when it comes to medical use. Here are some statistics that demonstrate how little this testing has contributed to advancements.

  • Animals bred but not used in experiments are often killed as excess- sometimes even double the necessary amount, and are not reported by various governing bodies.
  • 9 out of 10 medicines that are tested and appear safe in animals fail in humans.
  • As of 2015, 85 different HIV/AIDS treatments have been successful in primates but have not been in Humans.
  • Only one third of substances known to cause cancer in humans have been shown to cause cancer in animals.
  • An analysis of over 100 mouse cell types found that only 50% of the DNA responsible for regulating genes in mice could be matched with human DNA.
  • Aspirin is a medicine toxic to many animals, including cats, mice and rats and would not be on pharmacy shelves if it had been tested according to current animal testing standards.

Moving Forward
A push for human-based research and testing is needed, especially with the lack of success in drugs found effective in animals for humans. Here are some ways to further the #CrueltyFree cause and support animal welfare:

  • Supporting legislation such as the Humane Cosmetics Act in the USA
  • Purchasing products and from providers that are cruelty-free will encourage more brands to do the same.  
  • Researching the sources of products containing animals can help you inform yourself and others about where these products are sourced, how they are processed, and its effect on animals.
  • Being certain to purchase faux-leather or faux-fur products that are not obtained from animals. 
  • Contacting local, state, and national representatives to encourage animal welfare.

Want to learn more about advocacy? – check out our article on Advocacy here!

Sources:  Lush Prize, Humane Society International, Federal Drug Administration, PETA, Cruelty Free International, LiveKindly, Speaking of Research, Canadian Council on Animal Care, Humane Research Australia, EU Environment