A few weeks ago, the following video went viral on social media:
This powerful video introduces us to Ralph, a white rabbit who works in a laboratory. Ralph’s life is simple as he wakes up every morning, goes to work for humans and then goes back home. However, it is not just a job, as his small body is used to test different safety measures that allow humans to give the illusion of a safer product. As the video continues, we start to feel impotence and anger, but something what Ralph says hits differently. “We do it for the humans, they are far superior to us animals” – he said. But it has to make you wonder, are we humans really that superior? What kind of humanity do we have, when we treat helpless living beings this way? Small animals that have no voice to speak up for them, where is our humanity when we do this?
The Humane Society International (HSI) is the organisation in charge of this video. Their goal is to raise awareness about the brutality behind practices shown in it and to ban cosmetic testing on animals globally. With this short film, the HSI has launched the #SaveRalph campaign that shows how the story of one tester bunny represents the countless animals in laboratories around the world that go through these procedures every day. From rabbits, mouses, ferrets, monkeys and even dogs. Of course, Ralph is an animated bunny, but the miseries he goes through are far from being made up. This, unfortunately, is the sad story behind all animal testing.
First of all, did you know that animal testing is legally required for many products we use every day? From fragrances, creams, painkillers, fabric dyes used in our clothing and more. Governmental regulations are one of the main causes behind animal testing in the world, as they require private companies and laboratories to test the potential hazards of a single new chemical, pesticide or medicinal product that will come out in the market and into everyone’s life.
Troy Seidle, vice president of the Humane Society International for research and toxicology, explained that the “Save Ralph campaign is a wake-up call to European citizens and lawmakers who believe that animal testing for cosmetics is over in the European Union. This in fact is not—it has just been given a new name of ‘chemicals assessment’ but it’s the same old animal suffering.” In fact, in many cases, private companies are the ones trying to fight these tests and use alternative methodologies to introduce their products, which are just as representative and useful for safety measures. Mr Seidle continues as he explains that “Today we have an abundance of reliable, animal-free approaches for product safety assurance, so there’s no excuse for making animals like Ralph suffer in any type of test for cosmetic ingredients.” Thus, the requirements for these tests are coming directly from the European Chemicals Agency (ECA). Mr. Seidle pointed out that they are “using Europe’s chemicals law to circumvent the EU’s historic ban on animal testing for cosmetics.” Meaning that regulators are demanding to test on animals for cosmetic ingredients that they have already been using safely for years.
Some of the required tests adopted in the industry nowadays ask for thousands of animals to be tested at the same time, like in the video with Ralph and his friend’s case. Moreover, some other require to be repeated two or three times using different animal species, just to see how bunnies react differently from mouses from one same product. Finally, there are several ways of testing products on animals, but the goal remains the same, to forcefully administrate the product on the animal and see how it reacts. Some brutal examples are:
Hairspray and cigarettes: Forcing animals to inhale the chemical substances in the product until they reach a comma state and see if they survive the procedure.
Shampoos, toothpaste, contact lenses saline: Forcefully feeding animals and injecting the product into their eyes to see their allergic reactions.
Skin contact products (soaps, face creams and make up): Completely shaving the animal’s back area, which is naturally more sensitive than human skin, and force the irritation after spreading the product, waiting for a reaction.
Sunscreen and bronze oils: Exposing the shaved and sensitive animal’s back area to extreme UV light to test their efficacy.
Now, it is somewhat “understandable” to test new–new products and medications before they go out to the public. Bring to mind the case of the Covid-19 vaccine and how the United States Food and Drug Administration agency (FDA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA) demands a phase two for all vaccines and involve animal trials, before going into human trials. But can you really imagine going through this same testing for every single new type of eyeliner a cosmetic company wants to launch or even a new type of shampoo from a big multinational? It just seems unnecessary.
Cosmetic animal testing has been around since the 1920s, when rodent lethal dose tests were starting to boom in order to see the risks of too much exposure to chemical gases in sprays and such inflammable substances. However, 100 years have passed and we still use this archaic methods. With technology at its peak, we need to start demanding our governments and private companies to incorporate modern non-animal methods, which in many cases are more effective than traditional ones. Here are some of the most relevant alternative methods of animal testing nowadays. In the research world, technology has offered the in vitro method, using similar microorganisms outside the living body as testers, and the in silico method which uses computer simulations. Both are much safer and cruelty-free than the in vivo method, that uses a living being. The technologies vary from 3D physiologically-based cells and tissue models, to predictive computational methods in order to assess risk and strategize for a new upcoming product. The technology exists, and it is out there, so when are we going to start using it?
What can we do to help?
Browse through your home and bathroom items checking for the bunny or PETA regulated label. Companies that are certified as Cruelty Free will normally display it on their packaging with the image of said animal.
Question your regular purchases. Challenge your favourite brands and see if they are regulated or if the mother-company is at least trying to incorporate cruelty-free methodologies.
Before purchasing a new product, search for the company you are planning to buy from on the PETA website. They carry updated lists on companies and brands that continue to test on animals and should be avoided. You would be surprised the number of famous and normalized products that are on this list.