It’s Time Canada Bans Animal Testing
Pigs, monkeys, and dogs being aggressively thrown into metal cages or onto operating tables.
Animals shrieking as they’re being restrained. These are some of the scenes brought to light by an undercover investigation into International Toxicology Research Laboratories Canada’s Montreal-based facility, a company that conducts tests on animals for several products.
ITR has since stated that they have a zero-tolerance policy for animal mistreatment, claiming they were following the official guidelines in place. Protesters gathered in front of the facility a week after the videos from the investigation were released, hoping to raise awareness about the cruelty going on just behind the lab’s doors.
I’ve personally felt not only disgust but also a befuddlement that Canada, a country that sees itself as a scientific frontrunner, still permits widespread animal testing for things that really shouldn’t be tested on animals.
Now, understandably, we can’t just stop testing products to determine whether they are safe for use—that’s a logical extreme. Instead, Canada should take steps to adopt alternative ways of ensuring the products being sold to the people are safe. We need to look no further than the European Union to find some of these alternative methods to testing on animals.
First, some history: since 2005, the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing has had the goal of replacing, reducing and refining the role of animals for testing by using alternatives that they call “better and more predictive.”
They’ve been effective, too. In 2013, the EPAA banned the testing of cosmetic products on animals. The European Union spent 238 million euros from 2007 to 2011 to facilitate the transition from animal testing to alternative testing methods.
The methods that have been put forward by the EU and the EPAA are still highly effective and highly specialized.
There’s in vitro testing, which is testing that is done directly on cells in a laboratory. Experimenting on the cells directly instead of on the cells of a living creature allows for more accurate testing than simply seeing if a lab mouse dies when you apply an anti-age cream to it.
In vitro testing allows the observation of the reactions at a cellular level, leading to a more complete understanding of what exactly is going on. If the mouse dies as a result of the experiment, many things can have contributed to its death. The chemical itself may have killed it, but so too could have stress or malnutrition.
Furthermore, we test on animals, usually mammals, because of their genetic similarity to humans. We do not perform toxicity tests on humans because if they die, then the laboratory has killed a human. One can see why that’s a problem.
These tests are usually accurate, but there is always a chance humans may not react the same way other mammals do to the same product. Cell testing, meanwhile, allows scientists to test these same chemicals on human cells. We can directly and accurately determine what happens to human cells when they are exposed to this chemical.
Another method put into use in conjunction with in vitro testing is the predominant usage of already widely used—and thus widely tested—chemicals. By using chemicals that have already been tested using in vitro or other methods, it is unnecessary to physically test the chemicals again, as the data already exists.
For example, cosmetic companies already know that putting Pyrithione zinc, an important component of Head and Shoulders shampoo, is perfectly fine for humans. As such, they don’t have to test it each time to determine whether this time it will be safe as an ingredient in shampoo.
This same logic is applied for newer, more complex chemicals being used by the cosmetics industry. By already knowing how some chemicals react with other chemicals and the human body, cosmetic companies can reliably predict their effects on humans, and thus they avoid having to test on animals.
What’s even better for Canada is that they do not have to develop all these new methods for themselves. They already exist, and are already being widely used. Canadian cosmetic companies only have to adopt these new methods and adapt their research and development accordingly, which is a cumbersome but realistic task.
Of course, the situations that have permitted the EU to adopt these regulations are not the same situations Canada faces. Canada isn’t part of a large economic union made up of many Western countries that can put large amounts of money into quickly transitioning its cosmetic industry from animal testing to these new modern testing methods.
With the number of cosmetic products developed and marketed in Canada by companies from the United States, where animal testing is also legal, an immediate ban on selling and marketing these products is not realistic unless the United States is also involved in eliminating animal testing.
Rather, the Canadian government should start the process of moving on from animal testing as soon as possible. Companies must be given time to make the switch to these new and more humane methods to ensure they are put in place correctly.
Perhaps a deadline of five years can be given to these companies to allow them to convert to the new methods. One thing is for sure: the sooner Canada implements these alternative methods to the cruel, archaic methods of animal testing, the sooner incidents like those from earlier this month will be nothing more than a stain on our past.
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