The Leaping Bunny program logo is commonly used to acknowledge cruelty-free products. Courtesy of Leaping Bunny
In the United States, more than 50 million animals are used in experiments each year — most commonly cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs and rabbits, said Mary Hilley, program coordinator of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States.
In the past 20 years, the United States has made progressive decisions regarding banning cosmetic testing on animals, such as state-wide bans on the sale of these products, according to the HSUS. With programs such as the Leaping Bunny providing compassionate shopping guides, many students and staff said they watch what they buy and have a heart for contributing to the end of animal testing.
“There is a reason companies don’t tell you about it and why people don’t typically go looking for it on their own — because we all know deep down that once we know what is going on, you know that it is not right and not something you want to be a part of,” junior Sustainability major Izzie Agee said.
The Basics of Animal Testing
The term animal testing refers to procedures performed on living animals for research and testing the safety of consumer and industry products such as cosmetics, food additives and more, according to Humane Society International.
The Food and Drug Administration defines cosmetics as, “articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions,” according to the FDA. Any ingredient in these products such as lotion, lipstick, perfume and more also fall under this definition, according to HSUS.
Animal testing for cosmetics is not required in the U.S., yet some brands still choose this method to assess the safety of new ingredients. Even still, the United States is in the top three animal testing countries in the world and one of the top users of dogs and monkeys, according to Cruelty Free International.
Many animals, such as mice and rats, are also “purpose-bred” — and tests can last from months to years, ending in death, with no pain relief provided, according to HSUS.
Hilley said testing occurs on birds, mice and rats because the Animal Welfare Act does not cover these animals. This means laboratories can use as many mice, rats and birds bred by Class A breeders for research with no regulation. Testing is also common on dogs, specifically beagles due to their docile nature, Hilley said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses and inspects Class A breeders. Class B breeders are those who have acquired animals from auctions, ads, shelters and more. Although, according to HSUS, random Class B breeders have not been allowed to operate since 2015, when Congress passed legislation to prevent their licensing.
“The numbers and statistics alone will shock you, but think, there are millions more animals used [those not covered by AWA] that are not even counted, unfortunately,” Hilley said.
Most animals in experiments are euthanized, and laboratories are not required to report euthanasia numbers. Tests often include skin and eye irritation tests, force-feeding medical substances and “lethal dose” tests, forcing large amounts of chemicals to determine the dose that causes death, according to HSUS.
“One bright thing about California is that you have passed a law that will give dogs and cats at laboratories, once their time has ended, a chance at adoption, instead of automatic euthanasia,” Hilley said. “It can be difficult, but there are also some really good success stories of them fitting right in and feeling love for the first time and being happy.”
Hilley said animal testing is not just for cosmetics but other items in one’s daily life, such as pesticides on food, herbicides and pharmaceutical drugs. There is more federally required animal testing for drugs, Hilley said.
Laboratories are usually sterile, indoor environments with animals in cages, pens or Perspex boxes, isolated with the lack of ability to move, according to Cruelty-Free International.
Hilley said she came to HSUS after visiting an animal testing lab in college while she was studying veterinarian science — she said those in her field deal with “compassion fatigue.”
“If we think about it [animal testing] too much, it can become really overwhelming,” Hilley said. “It is notoriously difficult to change people’s minds, such as scientists and the government about animal research issues. But when we have these big wins, it makes you feel very validated in what you are doing, and that it is worthwhile.”
Animal Testing Alternatives and Human Accuracy
There are thousands of products on the market with a history of safe ingredients that do not require additional tests, according to HSUS. Companies have the option of using existing non-animal tests or investing and developing non-animal tests for new ingredients. Around 50 non-animal tests are already available, and many more are in development, according to HSUS.
Hilley said around 90% of drugs fail once they pass the animal trial and make it to the human trial. She said encouraging the government to invest in non-animal alternatives is not only better for the animals but better for humans.
“We have to ask ourselves, well why are we still doing this, if it is not working?” Hilley said.
Some alternatives Hilley said exist include “Organs-on-chips,” which are small 3D chips made of human cells that can function as miniature human organs. They are used to test human reactions to specific drugs and what happens in infection or disease.
There are also sophisticated computer models that can predict how certain drugs and chemicals can affect humans. Other alternatives include specialized computers that use human cells to print 3D tissues, skin cells from patients, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease, which can be turned into other types of cells in laboratories and more, according to HSUS.
Formulated decades ago, animal tests, and their new practices have limitations. New ideas can be more beneficial as they closely mimic human reactions more efficiently and cost-effectively, according to HSUS.
“If we can use a better way to achieve results for human health faster and more efficiently, why wouldn’t we do that?” Hilley said.
Brands and Products
In the U.S., nine states have banned animal testing, according to Bunny Army. These states are California, Nevada, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, Maine, Hawaii, New Jersey and Louisiana. This ban also states a cosmetic manufacturer cannot import or sell any product developed or manufactured using an animal test conducted after a specified date — this also includes any supplier of the manufacturer, according to Bunny Army.
Senior Sustainability major Ariel Wilson said she is vegan and supports cruelty-free brands. Wilson watched 2018 animal agriculture documentary “Dominion” and decided to go vegan. She uses resources such as website Happy Cow to help find vegan and vegetarian alternatives to food, products and more.
Wilson said she does not normally wear makeup but gravitates more toward skincare. Her favorite brands are Drunk Elephant, Wishful and products from Trader Joe’s.
While Wilson said cruelty-free, vegan and clean products can be more expensive, she tends to save in other areas by thrifting clothes, for example, so she can splurge on ethically conscious skin products.
“I feel that every living creature on earth is super important and has intrinsic value,” Wilson said. “Just because we’re humans and we have the tools to be able to exploit them [animals] doesn’t mean that we should.”
Caroline Decker, International Programs office specialist, said she is passionate about supporting cruelty-free brands — such as her favorites Lancer and Biossance. Biossance works to end the market of shark squalene, which has led to livering — cutting out a shark’s liver and throwing the shark back into the sea — and overfishing, according to Biossance’s website.
Decker said when she makes a larger investment in expensive skincare, she is more likely to do research on the background of the product. She feels it is important for brands to emphasize sustainable ingredients because it can be counterintuitive when a brand advertises saving animals and is sent with plastic packaging, Decker said.
“As the world evolves, we’re learning more about it and how harmful some of the things we’re putting in and on our bodies are to ourselves and the world around us,” Decker said.
Agee said they support products that are cruelty-free and check before buying.
“Normally if it is labeled vegan, then it entails that it is cruelty-free,” Agee said. “But it is kind of like greenwashing where a label can make you think it is clean but it is not actually. So, I definitely buy vegan beauty supplies and shampoo, but I will also look for the cruelty-free label as well.”
Agee said they love the makeup brand Milk and appreciate that the brand carries vibrant colors because a lot of brands labeled clean tend to stay on the neutral side. They said they have seen a more positive and healthy difference in their skin using products with less harsh chemicals.
“It was shocking to me how horrific those conditions are and what those poor animals have to go through,” Agee said. “I have gotten rashes and stuff from deodorants I’m allergic to, and it hurts and is annoying, and those animals are going through way worse every single day just so we can put products on our skin — that we don’t even have to make the choice to buy.”
Hilley said resources such as Leaping Bunny are most helpful. Their compassionate shopping guide lists companies from A to Z that do not test their finished products, formulations, or ingredients on animals.
Brands that are on Leaping Bunny have met the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics rigorous and internationally recognized cruelty-free standard, according to HSUS. Leaping Bunny is also available as an app, and its logo can be found on products in most grocery and department stores.
Hope for the Future and Consumer Involvement
With many non-profits, organizations and companies working and remaining cruelty-free, Hilley said the voice of the public makes an exceptional difference.
Not only can one donate through organizations such as HSUS, but Hilley said she recommends writing to legislators, even with some of the templates provided on the HSUS website.
Hilley also said one can start a club at school brainstorming ideas about how to make an impact on animal testing.
“With fresh minds and fresh ideas, you may think of things we have not even thought of, and those can make a difference as well as volunteering and interning with animal groups,” Hilley said.
Hilley said what makes the biggest difference is looking out for labels and supporting brands that match one’s personal ethics. Hilley said if you are spending your money on cruelty-free products instead of non-cruelty-free products, that is going to make a difference in the long run.
Governor of California Gavin Newsom signed a bill Sept. 26, PET, Prohibiting Extraneous Testing, that prohibits toxicity testing on dogs and cats for pesticides, chemical substances and other products, according to CA.gov. This includes exemptions for products intended for use in dogs and cats and medical treatments. Hilley said while the progress in this field can seem slow, she is hopeful every time she sees a victory such as this.
“Do I think there is an end?” Hilley said. “Yes. I don’t think I would work here if I thought it was totally impossible. When I see things like that [PET bill] it re-encourages me, and I know there is an end in sight. Not right now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. But eventually, yes. I am still hopeful.”
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