Beauty versus Animal Rights
Politically, I’m a moderate. I haven’t always been. I grew up in the 1960s, and my politics have ranged from idealistic liberal to confused bipartisan. Now, as I stand loosely planted in the new millennium, I can earnestly say I am convinced that few, if any, issues in life are black and white, or all or nothing. I find more and more often that there is truth on both sides of the issues and the middle ground is often the only reasonable position. At least the middle ground is the only position that acknowledges the whole picture and not just one side.
This middle position also reflects my perspective on animal testing as it pertains to cosmetic products and the health-care industry. While I unquestionably advocate the humane and ethical treatment of all life, especially unprotected and dependent life, I am not in favor of eliminating all forms of animal testing when it comes to health-care issues or human safety issues.
I feel terrible pain and anguish when I think of animals suffering in any way so that I can put on mascara or clean my face. Many animal tests that are used to ascertain whether a cosmetic will hurt people are cruel and gratuitous. No one is ever going to eat 50 pounds of mascara. Forcing animals to do so in order to demonstrate how much mascara people can eat before they die makes me want to resign from the human race. How can anyone put an animal through such torture?
On the other hand, my older sister who had breast cancer, my father who had prostate cancer, my friends whose parents have suffered through Alzheimer’s, my friends who have multiple sclerosis, and my brother-in-law who has diabetes all take or have at some point taken medication or undergone medical procedures that improved their quality of life or facilitated recovery. All of these medications and procedures had been proven effective and safe as a result of animal testing. I absolutely do not want to see even one animal die by being force-fed foundation or eyeshadow to prove a favorable formulation. Yet, if sacrificing an animal’s life can help find the cure for Alzheimer’s, prevent more cancers, or reduce the risks of high blood pressure and a host of other illnesses, I would and do support that research.
Most of us are aware of the dramatic pictures distributed by animal-rights groups showing the terrible torment of animals in research laboratories. They have exposed conditions that are indeed grotesque and painful and that all of us should be sickened by and do our best to change. But this narrow, shocking display does not address the positive results of animal research (the creation of safe products and medical treatments), nor does it represent the labs that treat animals humanely by caring for them and anesthetizing them.
Children who survive leukemia owe their lives to animal testing. Arthritis patients who can walk again owe their agility to animal testing. Successful excisions of brain tumors are due to animal testing, and on and on. Human health-care advancement and the use of animals to test various protocols and risks are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. This is the dilemma of animal testing.
There are many arguments surrounding this issue from both points of view. On one side are the animal-rights activists who claim there is no need or reason to ever use animal testing (or eat meat, use leather goods, or use animals for any purpose other than as pets). When it comes to animal testing, they point to alternative methods of research assessment that can be used. Spokespeople for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) claim that a preponderance of research proves that all animal testing is inconclusive and has no relation to what takes place in humans. Animal activists insist that all animal testing is motivated by financial profit and stubborn, old-fashioned doctors or “good old boys” who refuse to change. Their reasoning is that animal testing is big business, and no one wants to alter what they are doing and potentially lose money.
On the other side are the vast majority of physicians, medical research groups from most major universities, national medical organizations representing everything from cancer to heart disease, and pharmaceutical companies, all of which believe the use of animal models for research is essential to evaluating new and old medical treatments and procedures. These physicians and organizations often agree that in vitro (test tube-oriented) tests and computer model studies can replace some animal testing, but definitely not all of it.
No one among these countless medical professionals would concede that all or even most animal testing is futile and immaterial. They can point to thousands of chemical substances and operations that were first determined to be safe and effective or dangerous and deleterious because of animal testing. Suggesting that these be stopped would halt most medical research, from AIDS to Alzheimer’s, and the development of any new drug. Even physicians deeply involved in finding alternative research methods to replace animal testing would not agree that we should close the door to the ultimate goal or eradicating many diseases.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Medical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industry experts freely admit that, in the past, they were doing far more animal experiments than were needed to prove safety. Animal-rights activist campaigns inspired a vocal consumer base to force a major change in the number and type of animal tests being done. Many companies responded by reducing animal testing, changing to alternative methods whenever possible, and instituting humane treatment of their animals. Yet all or nothing is the goal of animal activists, and it may not be the goal of all consumers buying makeup, taking medicines, or considering medical procedures. Consumers should look at the whole issue, not just at shocking pictures.
For example, according to an article in the January 1997 issue of Drug and Cosmetics Industry magazine (Drug and Cosmetics Industry magazine’s name has been changed to Global Cosmetic Industry), Gillette has been a boycott target of PETA since 1986. What PETA does not acknowledge is that, since its boycott, Gillette has reduced tests on animals by over 90%, has contributed millions of dollars to alternative research, and has donated over $100,000 to the Humane Society. You would think PETA would ease up on Gillette, but that isn’t the case. It still lists Gillette among its companies to boycott. As long as a company does any animal testing, humane or otherwise, it is a target for PETA’s condemnation. That is regrettable, because as a consumer you get only a limited perspective.
Most of us are against animal testing, but we also have the right to safe products and straight information about how that can best be accomplished. It would be wonderful if alternative, computer-based, and test-tube models were sufficient to establish a cosmetic, drug, or medical procedure’s safety, but that doesn’t seem to be true, at least not now or in the near future. If alternatives do become common practice, that will probably happen in the world of cosmetics first, mainly because cosmetics are not ingested and alternative research methods for irritation studies are in use.
I will continue to earnestly support the humane and ethical treatment of animals, but I do not at this time support a complete ban on animal testing. I personally do not use animal testing for any of my Paula’s Choice skin-care products, either directly or indirectly (meaning I don’t hire third-party testing facilities to do my testing for me). I use only proven, long-established formulations and ingredients, as do many other companies that make claims about no animal testing. But because all of the cosmetic ingredients currently in use have at some point been tested on animals, including everything from vitamin C to sunscreen ingredients, no one can claim that the ingredients in their products involved no animal testing. It’s great that they don’t test on animals, but at least some of the ingredients they use were tested at some point in the ingredient’s history.
By creating products that are not tested on animals and by my supporting through financial contributions such organizations as animal welfare groups and legal groups that fight for animal causes, I feel I am doing my part to help create a world where fewer and fewer animals will be used for testing, and those that are will be treated humanely and ethically every step of the way.
I want my readers to know that I believe their decisions and consumer activism in this area have been and continue to be vital. Cosmetics companies only started changing and looking for alternative methods because you, the consumer, brought pressure to bear and forced them to change. It is important to keep up this pressure. However, I feel it would be foolish to follow organizations like PETA and NAVS blindly unless you truly agree completely with their goal of abolishing all animal testing and creating a completely vegetarian or vegan society.
Instead, I encourage you to support organizations fighting for the welfare and safety of all animals, for limited and humane animal testing, and for continued research to find alternatives to animal testing in hopes that someday no animals will have to be used in any research experiments. This is completely in your power, because you, the consumer, have everything to say about what you buy and whom you buy it from, and your actions speak loudly and clearly to all kinds of corporations and enterprises the world over.