Animal testing is costly and inefficient; investment in more humane science may yield better solutions

So many companies test on animals. Even those that don’t need to do so. For instance, perfume companies by now have isolated all the ingredients needed to make a perfume. It is simply a matter of mixing them. But they continue to spray the perfume in rabbits’ eyes, slice their skins open and rub it in, and other terrible tests. This is done by perfumers like Aramis, Balenciaga, Bvlgari, Cacharel, Donna Karan, Dunhill Fragrances, Elizabeth Arden, Gucci Fragrances, Hugo Boss, Jo Malone, Lacoste Fragrances, Marc Jacobs Fragrances, Michael Kors, Missoni, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kenzo.

Toothpaste companies make animals eat their products to see after the consumption of how many toothpastes the animal dies. Does it prove anything? Has any human ever eaten five toothpaste tubes of goo? Or even one? But Aquafresh, Close-up, Colgate, Crest, Listerine, Mentadent, Pearl Drops, Sensodyne, Signal, Old Spice, Right Guard, continue to test.

The animal testing and experimentation industry are everywhere. It is secretive, pervasive and profitable. Most of you don’t even know that the products that you buy have so much suffering in them. But why this needless exploitation of animals in research, product testing and education? India used to buy over 1 crore frogs a year for school dissection. When the government banned this, it made no difference to the quality of education. Kerala teachers insisted that they should kill something, so, for years the frog suppliers turned into cockroach suppliers until one chief minister stopped this as well. Zoology teachers insisted on the killing of 1,000 + animals during the course of 3 years.

When it was stopped, the teaching improved but every now and then some zoology teacher will insist on trying to restart this. Ask the suppliers of animals where the nexus is, and they will point their fingers at the teacher. Rabbits used to be tested in the making of injections even though these are machine made. When the then government banned it, the same injections continued to be made. The government pesticide council has ordered that the testing of animals till they die is to be stopped. This will have no impact on the pesticides at all. Thousands of soaps and perfumes do not test on animals, and they are just as good. It has been found that 90 percent of the medicines tested on animals have failed. So why does this carry on?

It is a well-entrenched business mafia that continues to insist on animals being experimented on. It hides in the garb of science. It is an international, government-sanctioned and -funded, multi-billion rupee business. To give you one example: Raids done by my organisation ten years ago found a dealer in Agra who had over 20,000 dead animals in his house as specimens. He was a retired forest officer. Most of them were wild protected species; crocodiles, snakes, bats, every kind of mammal. The police found, through his computer, that he was selling to certain labs in Delhi University. When the wildlife department passed laws saying that no school/college will keep specimens, it was the illegal buyers in this list (who are teachers) that took delegations to ministers to protest.

One researcher in JNU killed a rat a day for over 10 years to prove that when rats were asleep, they were not awake. His salary was huge and he lived rent-free at the university as a scientist. There are thousands like him. India has a CPCSEA committee that regulates the experiments on animals. I created this body and it was supposed to stop duplicative and unnecessary experiments. It has gone into the hands of people who pass every kind of experiment for a fee. If they stopped an experiment, the researcher would lose his grant, so it is easier to split the money in advance.

It is simple to get grants for experimenting on animals. Governments and private research centres give them. For instance, in America, 47  percent of the grants given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have animal research-based components. In 2015, this came to well over $10 billion in funding for projects that included animal experimentation. So, scientists band together and professional lobbying organisations craft, and market, sophisticated campaigns to defend and promote even more animal research.

Who benefits?  The salaries of researchers and technicians, who carry out animal experiments, provide financial incentives. Universities and other academic institutions profit from the percentage of “overhead” that they receive from the grants for animal experiments from the government. Unthinking politicians and clever bureaucrats allow laws mandating the testing of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, drugs, to assess safety and efficacy. The defence ministry allows testing of guns and gases on animals, the carmakers allow diesel testing on animals, the ministry of agriculture allows it for pesticides, the Consumer Product Safety Councils allow it for products, and FSSAI allows it for foods. Everyone benefits except the millions of animals that suffer and die needlessly.

Who else benefits? NGOs posing as charities that raise billions of dollars from well-meaning people, hoping to find cures for virtually every human disease even when animal models for human diseases fail to predict what is safe or effective for people after decades of funding.

Animal breeders profit handsomely from breeding and genetically engineering animals, from mice to primates. Recent prices quoted from one animal supply company’s catalogue identified White Rabbits as high as $352 each, Beagles from China for $1,049 and some primates costing more than $8,000 each.

Suppliers, of food, cages and equipment related to animal-model research, have a lucrative business. Veterinarians, employed to supposedly care for research animals, are paid highly to ignore the suffering and give their stamps of approval.

Pharmaceutical companies fuel the animal research “machine” by conducting animal studies before moving to the real research on human beings. If the humans suffer or die as they often do, the company protects itself legally by saying that trials did OK on animals. These corporate giants use animal studies as a legal safety net by telling courts that they did what the law requires—prove the safety of a drug in animal—and therefore are not liable when a drug harms a human.

Even the media profits from the “publish or perish” mentality within the scientific community to justify animal research by using the results of animal tests to announce “medical miracles,” which help them sell more journals, newspapers and increase TV ratings. On an average, there are three stories a week on how testing on rats has shown every kind of cure – from miracle hair growth by using an oil used for cooking fast food, to a cancer cure. Two days later this is forgotten and the cure is never heard of again.

Government is made largely of politicians and bureaucrats who go with the flow. This government endorsed a proposal made by the last: to put Rs 200 crores into 100 acres of land in Telangana to grow animals for research. If I asked them for the same money for better sanitary towels, the answer would be that it is a waste of money.

Anyone opposing experimentation wilts under opposition from these businesses. I have faced it many times. At the moment I am trying to get capsules made vegetarian. The entire gelatine industry is opposing this. So, media articles come out regularly, from so-called independent journalists, saying that vegetarian capsules are bad and expensive. The committee to regulate this is full of industry people. It will happen but it will take me and you some time to wade through the vested interests. The government mandated a red/green dot (veg/non-veg) on household products.

Immediately the “beauty council”, which is a conglomerate of companies who produce everything from soap to house cleaners, went to court and got a stay. It has been four years now and not once has it come up in court !!! So you can imagine how many people have been “influenced”.

Some animal tests take months or years to conduct and analyse (eg, 4-5 years in the case of rodent cancer studies), at a cost of hundreds of thousands—and sometimes millions—of dollars per chemical examined. The inefficiency, and exorbitant costs associated with animal testing, makes it impossible for regulators to take up the potential effects of 1,00,000+ chemicals currently in commerce worldwide, or the more than 1 million combinations of these chemicals to which humans are exposed to every day.

In contrast, computer modelling techniques are lightning-fast, and many cell-based in vitro methods are much more accurate, all at a much lower cost than animal tests.

It is time we looked at a smarter science that is human-relevant and can provide safer and more effective solutions to human health needs. This investment, in better more humane science promises, rather than in animal testing, will pay huge dividends in smarter, better solutions for people and animals.

Date: 23 April 2018