As of March 11, 2013, the European Union banned the sale of any cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients that have been tested on animals. This means companies around the world have to look for alternative ways to test their products in order to sell in the EU.
Despite this giant leap for animal rights in Europe, North America still struggles to turn over a new leaf. Canada, for example, has yet to ban animal testing, not only in regard to cosmetics but as a whole, despite having all the necessary tools to do so.
Animals are used in tests for various reasons. They are models used to study diseases; to find a cure or temporary solution they ingest potential forms of treatment (drugs/medications); they are exposed to toxins and chemicals simply so we can realize their already obvious effects; and are also used in a variety of cosmetic research facilities where the final product is not tested using animals, but each individual ingredient is.
In Canada circa 1999, more than 1.7 million animals (excluding mice and rats) were used as test subjects in lab experiments. Despite what you might think, the number of animals being experimented on 10 years later did not decrease but hit 3.38 million, an increase of nearly 100 per cent.
Obviously, if there are no regulations concerning the matter and we have increased the use of animals in our labs, then there must be some sort of benefit? You would be right ... sort of.
Throughout history, we have made gigantic leaps in the medical field through our continuous testing of treatments on animals. Insulin (type I diabetes treatment) and highly active antiretroviral therapies (which fight AIDS) were most likely the biggest inventions resulting from direct animal tests. Vaccines conquering diseases, such as polio, TB, meningitis, smallpox and asthma, have also been developed with the use of animals, but (and this is a very big but) that was when we did not have any alternative test methods.
Today, scientists and companies around the globe are performing tests or designing products without the endangerment/use of a single animal.
Hundreds of cosmetic companies, including LUSH, Almina, Glam Natural and JASON, have taken simple measures, such as using ingredients already predetermined to be safe, in order to stop further testing.
In the medical field, drops that were once tested directly on a rabbit’s eye (often blinding the animal) can now be administered onto a synthetic tissue that replicates more accurately the tissues of a human eye. Pills and liquids that were once force-fed through tubes into an animal’s stomach (normally causing severe pain and occasionally death) can now be tested through the use of in vitro (non-animal) methods, such as the 3-D in vitro test tube human liver creation, which allows scientists to study the breakdown of substances within the body. Creams and gels that were applied onto an animal’s bare skin (causing burns and irritation) can now be applied onto human skin models, which are more accurate and also cheaper to use.
So why are we still using animals in this sophisticated First World country? I believe it’s simply a matter of, or in actuality a lack of, public awareness. We are just locked into our old habits, which die hard on any level and struggle to break free from our everyday rituals. We lack both the willpower and public drive to terminate this ongoing abuse.
If you would like to help the cause, I strongly recommend you look for products that state "animal test free" and go to the Humane Society’s international webpage (hsi.org) to learn about projects and issues that you can resolve or partake in around your community. If we don’t push for more humane testing, who will?
» Mahesh Shunmugam is a Grade 11 student at Neelin High School.