By definition, vegans take an ethical stand against all sorts of animal issues: industrial farming, puppy mills, pet overpopulation, consuming/wearing animals, hunting, etc. Calling yourself vegan is a public declaration of your opposition to all issues relative to abuse, neglect, cruelty or exploitation of animals in any form. But, if you ask anyone with a passion for animal welfare if there is one “issue” they hold nearest and dearest to their heart, you’re likely to find that we all do have one thing or another that calls to us above all else. For me, that’s animal testing.
Nothing stirs me, angers me or breaks my heart more than the idea of “testing” on a living creature. Even under the most “humane” standards (i.e. anesthetics, pain medication, professional medical care, etc.) or with the best of intentions, I believe it to be indisputably wrong.
Typically, people will agree that animal testing for consumer products (health/beauty and household cleaning products are common offenders) is repulsive. Clearly, the ends cannot possibly justify the means in this case. It’s when talk turns to medical research and/or pharmaceutical testing that people are more willing to turn a blind eye.
While this issue is particularly hard to argue in the face of a friend or family member suffering from a debilitating disease or with someone who has lost a loved one in a similar fashion, if something is wrong, there are no circumstances that can make it right. I truly do understand that the stakes are incredibly high, but I simply don’t believe in the idea of “winning” at any cost – regardless of the reason.
There’s a famous quote from George Bernard Shaw that so beautifully illustrates my point:
Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.
I believe this to my core.
I understand my basic position on this issue can be hard to swallow and that most people disagree about when/if animal testing is appropriate. For everyone out there on that side of the issue, this one’s for you: whether you believe it is irrefutably wrong or not, it turns out animal testing isn’t actually necessary.
Here’s why: animals are not humans. Well no sh#t, right? But think about it. We infect animals with diseases that they would never naturally contract and then we test medical procedures and drugs meant to treat these diseases in a biological system that is significantly different than our own (and in high-stress environments completely foreign to any human experience, to boot). No wonder that over 90% of all drugs that are shown to be safe and effective in animal tests end up failing in human trials – which, by the way, always follow animal trials (why don’t we just start there to begin with? Good question).
Another fun fact: According to the FDA, of the small percentage of drugs that actually do make it through the approval process, half are later relabeled because of side effects that never showed up in the trials.
The truth is, reactions to drugs vary widely from species to species. For example, everyone’s favorite life-saving antibiotic, Penicillin, kills guinea pigs and has zero effect on rabbits. Aspirin will ease pain in humans but can kill a cat and cause birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs and monkeys. The point is: it’s a crap shoot. It’s also just plain bad science.
Fortunately, workable alternatives do exist. Human cell cultures and tissue studies can accurately mimic the body’s natural properties. There are also a variety of computer programs that can create virtual organs to serve as working models of human body parts. Human cadaver testing is also a viable and valuable option. Not only have each of these alternatives proven to be more reliable and precise than animal experimentation, they’re also often the less expensive choice. You would think this would make for a pretty easy decision on the part of large corporations and scientists to abandon animal testing. You’d be surprised by how powerful personal biases, outdated “traditions” and complacency are in this regard.
So, what are you supposed to do? Lock yourself in a closet and cry? Tempting – but, no. There are all kinds of things you can do every day, big and small, to fight against animal testing. Easy stuff first: become an educated and considerate consumer. Always buy health and beauty products (makeup, soap, toothpaste, etc.) and household cleaners from cruelty-free companies. You can do this by consulting lists of companies that don’t test from organizations like PETA and Leaping Bunny and/or looking for the logos for Vegan Action and Leaping Bunny on product packaging. Not all companies who abstain from animal testing are registered with these organizations – my favorite makeup is one of them – so don’t immediately count out products sans logos or those absent from the lists. Just a little extra research (and sometimes persistence) goes a long way.
Also be sure to check registries like Humaneseal.org and/or conduct your own research before donating to charities. Unfortunately, most of the high-profile charities (American Cancer Society, MDA, etc.) use donations to bankroll some pretty gruesome clinical testing, so it’s important to know an organization’s policy on vivisection before you give.
I completely understand that it can be really hard to decline a request for donations from friends, families, colleagues and even strangers, but this is exactly the kind of situation that can easily be turned into a great opportunity to start a conversation about animal testing in a considerate, respectful way. I often find it’s something people didn’t realize or hadn’t even considered about the charity in question. I usually kick that discussion off with something like this: “Oh, I’m sorry; I can’t support “XXX” because they engage in animal testing, but I’d be happy to make a donation in your honor to a charity with similar goals that doesn’t test.”
Finally (and on a less obvious note), check the holdings in your mutual funds and personal stock portfolio against the same lists and databases noted above in addition to conducting your own research (morningstar.com is a good place to start) to ensure that your money isn’t supporting companies who engage in animal testing. Read my previous post on cruelty-free investing for more information.
Additionally, be sure to take every opportunity you can to voice your opposition to vivisection to your representatives. No one has more power to eradicate the atrocities of animal testing than them. As always, be respectful, be logical and be persistent.
Animal testing is pervasive enough that it can’t always be avoided (taking prescription medication, for example). In such instances, recognize that you’re doing the best you can to fight against animal testing in as many other ways as possible and do what you have to do. That’s the best anyone can ask for.