Consumers are fed up with animal testing, the gruesome practice of testing products with animal research for medical experiments, makeup testing, chemical testing, and more.
If you’re not already fed up with how cruel—and potentially wasteful—animal testing is, keep reading.
What Is Animal Testing?
As the name implies, animal testing involves carrying out tests on animals. As Humane Society International notes, animal testing can span a wide range of experiments:
- Exposure to diseases and untested treatments
- Forced chemical exposure
- Genetic manipulation
- Behavioral tests, many of which can be distressing
A great deal of animal testing has been conducted by the cosmetics industry, although that’s been outlawed in Europe since 2009. Though many international brands are incorporating the use of animals less and less in their testing, animals are still used in cosmetics testing by cosmetics companies around the world.
PETA highlights that animal testing involves subjecting animals to painful experiments in a laboratory setting. By standard, animal research involves removing animals from their natural environment. Some are even bred in captivity, kept in cages their whole lives, never to see or enjoy the outside world.
The concept of animal testing may be vague and ambiguous to some consumers. But there’s no ambiguity about the suffering that laboratory animals go through in the name of research.
PETA highlights these examples of multiple cruel experiments that have actually been conducted on animals:
- Terrified baby monkeys trying to revive their sedated mothers
- Holes being drilled into monkey heads, with objects being screwed in
- Genital mutilation
- Soldiers mutilating and shooting animals as part of “military exercises”
- Animals being forced to smoke cigarettes
Animal Testing Facts and Figures
Though the average consumer may be vaguely aware of scientific or commercial testing on animals, as you read in the previous section, the realities are far worse than they can probably imagine. As Humane Society International highlights, for example, over 12 million animals are experimented on within Europe every year, particularly for medical research.
And in the United States that number is 15.6 million. According to PETA, these experiments involving animals are conducted “for biology lessons, medical training, curiosity-driven experimentation, and chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics testing.”
Consumers may be misled by recent publicity and efforts to decrease animal testing, and might be surprised by how pervasive animal testing still is. In the sections below I’ve highlighted some startling statistics about the use of animals in scientific research.
Millions of animals experimented on each year
A Red Orange Peach report claims that over 100 million animal experiments are conducted in the United States every year. That animal experimentation costs about $20 billion of taxpayer money annually.
Such experiments take place in multiple other countries, with Cruelty Free International identifying the top ten countries that use animal testing:
- United States
- South Korea
- The United Kingdom
According to those numbers from the Cruelty Free International report about animal experimentation, the top ten countries amount to using 69.7 million animals for animal experiments every year. In a separate report, the organization claims that the worldwide figure is closer to 115 million animals being experimented on.
That’s despite increased public demand for animal testing to be abolished.
A variety of animal species are commonly used in testing
When you think of animal tests, you might think of a mouse or rat running around a maze with curious scientists looking on. It’s not all fun and games, though, and it’s not just rats and mice. A wide variety of species are used in animal testing.
Not all animal species are used equally in animal testing. Some are more regularly used in animal research than others. As Vegan Black Box notes, certain animals are the most commonly tested on:
- Guinea pigs and hamsters
- Mice and rats
- Reptiles, including “bearded dragons, green anoles, snakes, turtles and tortoises”
- Chimpanzees, macaques, and other non-human primates
- Farm animals such as pigs, cows, sheep, and goats
According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society, guinea pigs are the most common research animals, representing 22% of all animal experiments.
The remaining percentage of animal tests and clinical trials are split relatively evenly among the above animal species. All that animal experimentation could be going to waste, however.
Animal testing may not even produce accurate results
Consumers may believe, with testing being so pervasive, that animal research is an effective tool, a necessary evil perhaps. It isn’t. As a Scientific American report highlights, much of the research done on animals isn’t even applicable to humans. The effects that chemicals and drugs have on living animals often don’t apply to human beings.
As the Las Vegas Sun reports, the National Institutes of Health recently admitted that 95% of pharmaceuticals that pass animal trials fail human ones. That’s a 95% failure rate in human clinical trials, which begs the question of why animal testing persists if the data isn’t even applicable to human health.
The failure rate in human clinical trials is driven by the genetic and physiological differences between animals and human beings. For example, there are some chemicals, such as Aspirin, that are toxic to many animals but not to humans.
As Cruelty Free International explains, animals don’t get many illnesses that human beings do, including many conditions that tests are conducted to find a treatment for:
- Certain heart diseases
- Some cancers
Many animal subjects can’t be infected with human diseases. For example, most cancers commonly found in human beings aren’t present in many animals, yet tests focusing on these illnesses are still used on animals.
And even with some diseases that animals do also get, animal testing to find treatments has yet to be effective. This is the case with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke, and more. Decades of animal testing have yet to produce applicable results.
Given the fundamental differences between laboratory animals and humans, testing on one for the benefit of the other seems a moot point. Animal tests often do not provide similar results on human patients. No doubt this taxpayer money that’s funding unnecessary cruelty to animals could be better spent on more effective solutions and causes.
Why are animal tests still conducted to develop medical treatments if 95% of these trials don’t seem to help with human disease?
The issues associated with animal testing has led to ethical dilemmas and debates. On the one hand, the BBC argues that it causes unnecessary suffering to animal subjects without many human benefits. On the other hand, it could provide key insights and breakthroughs to end human suffering.
Those in favor of animal testing claim there’s no moral issue at play; animals don’t have the same rights as humans, so there’s no equivalency. The argument here is that any animal pain or suffering is “less morally significant than the potential human benefits from the research.”
Some advocates for animal research take a middle-ground approach. Testing and experimentation are still carried out, but as humanely as possible. There are ways that laboratory research can be carried out with minimal harm to animals. As American Humane highlights, instead of inhumane animal experimentation, scientists can commit to other research methods:
- Considering all appropriate alternatives before testing on animals
- Giving laboratory animals the best possible life
- Aiming for results that provide applicable results to humans
- Ensuring they don’t put an animal in a position of unneeded suffering
But for animal welfare advocates, this isn’t enough. Experiments involving animals have brought up ethical questions for quite some time, with critics arguing that animal cruelty is built into animal testing. As PETA highlights, animals are socially isolated and psychologically harmed, to say nothing of the painful physical effects of testing itself. Animals are routinely exposed to various diseases, untested chemicals, and injury.
Animal testing stats: cruelty by the numbers
It’s inarguable that animal testing is cruel. The debate rages about whether it’s necessary. Wherever that debate ends up ultimately landing, some of the statistics associated with animal testing are quite dreadful, and if you’re not convinced that animal testing is that bad, the sheer numbers may change your mind. It’s a lot of suffering.
- Over 192.1 million animals were experimented on worldwide in 2015.
- The United States performs over 100 million tests on animals every year.
- 41 countries have banned cosmetic animal testing.
- Cancer testing on rodents costs between $2 million and $4 million per trial.
- All HIV vaccines tested in animals have failed.
- The US has 1,055 animal testing sites.
- The United Kingdom performed 2.88 million tests on animals in 2020, the lowest figure since 2004.
What Happened to Cosmetics Testing?
Animal testing in the cosmetics industry was widespread for decades. It’s something that looks to be on the way out, however. The European Union banned cosmetic animal testing in 2009. It subsequently followed this up by banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.
While brands outside of the EU can still legally test on animals, an increasing number of them are signing up to the Humane Society International’s Be Cruelty-Free campaign.
That’s led to multiple cosmetic brands refusing to perform animal tests or experiments, including some leading industry brands:
- Bath & Body Works
- Pangea Organics
- Kat Von D
- Trader Joe’s
While there are still cosmetic brands that perform animal tests and experiment on them, these are becoming increasingly unpopular.
Protecting the Animals
The push to end cosmetics tested with laboratory experiments on animals didn’t happen overnight or of the cosmetics industry’s own volition. Over the last half century regulations protecting animals have cropped up worldwide. For example, the United States enacted the Animal Welfare Act in 1966. The Animal Welfare Act focuses specifically on animal experimentation and regulates the use of animals, outlining how they should be treated.
The federal Animal Welfare Act has since been updated to improve overall standards for laboratory animals. They’re treated more humanely than before the legislation, which makes one wonder how bad it was before, considering some of the current facts about testing on live animals.
Other countries have laws with a similar focus. France passed its own equivalent to the Animal Welfare Act in 1980. This law, enforced by France’s Veterinary Service, ensures that appropriate standards are met and that premises are licensed and regularly inspected.
The United Kingdom also has a raft of legislation protecting animals. The most relevant of these is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Acting as the UK’s version of the Animal Welfare Act, it mandates appropriate treatment of animals used in experimentation.
The Argument for Animal Testing
With the cruelty, inefficacy, and waste associated with animal testing, it’s natural to wonder why it’s been around for so long. In short, it could be useful in biomedical research.
As the National Association for Biomedical Research notes, animal testing has been tied to countless medical advancements over the past century.
Animal research served as a vital component of medical science and has helped understand and treat multiple diseases. While that’s been observed to some degree in human health, it’s especially true in veterinary science.
Humanity’s understanding of animal illnesses wouldn’t exist without animal experimentation. Animal experiments can also help us understand human diseases, helping to develop medical treatments for critically ill patients.
Whether all this animal experimentation works is debatable.
In the absence of animal testing, how will scientists develop these treatments? As a National Academies Press article highlights, society deems it unethical to experiment on human subjects, so that’s unlikely to pose an alternative.
It’s undeniable that over the years, testing on animals has led to multiple conditions and breakthroughs, as the Foundation for Biomedical Research highlights. Several of the conditions cured through the use of animal experimentation are ones that have caused a great deal of human suffering, and would have caused more if not for their cures and treatments:
- Smallpox vaccine
- Hepatitis medication
- Malaria medication
- Polio vaccine
As the argument goes, if not animal experimentation, then what? Could human trials help protect animals?
Animal testing is cruel, wasteful, and fundamentally flawed. It’s a practice that needs to end, or at least change substantially, to eliminate cruelty and suffering. Animal testing may be important to the development of medical treatments, but in light of its 95% failure rate, the cruelty seems unnecessary.
Restrictions are increasingly tight in some countries, although they still don’t go far enough for many animal welfare advocates. Innocent animals are put through painful and traumatic experiments for no discernible reason.
Thanks to efforts by Humane Society International, an animal welfare act in every country may be on the horizon. As with many cultural and systemic changes, consumers can lead the charge. Stop buying products that test on animals, and it’s a move in the right direction.