Tuesday, 27 August 2013

It's Not a Glorified Bubble Bath: Why I Disagree With Animal Testing (editorial)

  • Companies such as L’Oreal and Proctor & Gamble still test on animals
  • Bentham: "The question is not, Can they reason? Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
  • We can be relatively certain that animals feel pain and do suffer greatly.
  • Cruelty Free produce directories of products that haven’t been tested on animals

I used to be a proponent of animal testing. I was all for it; when I was a kid, that is. I was under the impression that testing on animals involved giving my cat, Smudge, a bath using a human shampoo, and, if he liked the smell, and he looked glossy, and I was even more fond of him because of it, then my animal testing would have been a success and the cosmetic giants and world at large would thank me for it. 

I can see now that my idea of animal testing was a little out of focus. At that age it is unlikely I could comprehend the reality. What is more likely is this: Smudge (though in reality it would usually be a mouse, rat or a rabbit) would face something like the Draize test, which would involve his being restrained and having chemicals dripped into his eyes at increasing concentrations to check for damage indicated through bleeding, ulceration, blindness, or weeping pus. If any of this damage occurred he would be euthanised, sometimes fifteen up to days later, but otherwise he’d probably be kept, ready for another round of testing with some other chemical ingredients.

A common defence of animal testing is that animals don't feel pain in the same ways humans do, so it is okay. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. We can be relatively certain that animals feel pain and do suffer greatly. This is because we can observe obvious distress in animals when they are injured, and this is manifest in a similar way to the expression of pain and distress in humans (Singer, 2011). We also know that animals have similar nervous systems to humans so it seems likely that they too experience similar feelings of pain when damage occurs to their bodies (Singer, 2011). If these kinds of tests tell us anything about humans and the distress that damage to their skin and eyes does, then we must also assume that animals too feel distress in this situation (Singer, 2011). 

Proponents of animal testing might argue that animals don't suffer pain in quite the same way as a human might, because they do not have the capacity to understand their fate. However, we know that human babies don't have the capacity to understand their own fate either, yet we wouldn't dream of testing chemical ingredients on them. Jeremy Bentham (as cited in Singer, 2011), writing in a time when slavery was common, wrote:
...the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin... are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day... The question is not, Can they reason? Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? 
Other proponents of animal testing turn to the concept of utilitarianism to justify animal testing. Utilitarianism, simplified, is the view that we should do what creates the greatest amount of happiness in the world as a whole. It could be said that that the fate of a small number of animals might be ought-weighed by the happiness the results of these tests might bring others. This line of argument, however, is generally used when talking about animal testing for use in creating cures for medical advancement and is harder to defend in cosmetics testing. When considering cosmetics in particular, it is hard to defend the necessity of further testing because there are already many ingredients that have been tested and verified as safe. 

In response to these arguments there has been reconsideration into the place of animal testing in cosmetics. It has been banned here in the U.K., and the rest of Europe too. It is also against the law to sell any products that have been tested on animals, or an ingredient which was tested on animals, after the date of the ban. Sadly, though, animal testing still takes place elsewhere. Companies such as L’Oreal and Proctor & Gamble still test on animals, and these companies account for a large proportion of products seen everyday in houses across the country. L’Oreal claim that they no longer test cosmetic products on animals, which is great, however they do perform tests on animals using individual ingredients. Although they are no longer permitted to sell these products within Europe, they go into products sold elsewhere in the world. 

Thankfully, there are organisations campaigning for an end to animal testing. Organisations such as BUAV campaign peacefully to create a world where nobody wants or believes we need to test on animals, and Cruelty Free produce directories of products that haven’t been tested on animals. Their logo, the leaping bunny, can be seen on individual products to help consumers make an informed decision on what to buy. When reviewing cosmetics for Beauty Insignia, we take the issue of animal testing into consideration too when providing ecology ratings. However, this is far from fool-proof because not all manufacturers provide data on animal testing and we don't contact them individually. 

To read more about ethics in animal testing, and other situations, I heartily recommend a book called Practical Ethics by Peter Singer (see references below).


Singer, P. (2001) Practical Ethics, 3rd edn, United States of America, Cambridge University Press. 

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