Insight: Animal Testing to Combat Disease: Should Vegans Oppose?

Animal testing has been the norm for the longest time in the medical field. Animal testing goes back even to the time of the ancient Greeks. Even Aristotle had documentation on animal experimentation. But it was only during the 1880s that animal testing became a practice in medicine. Famous names in medicine who used animals for testing include Emil von Behring, Frederick Banting, and Selman Waksman to name a few. With the advances in animal experimentation in the 1800s, a lot of people have accepted the need to use animals as “lab rats” so to speak, for research and development (for the betterment of medicine).

Along with the success in animal testing, the animal protection law was enacted in 1822 and the Cruelty to Animals Act took effect in 1876. The aim of these laws was primarily directed at regulating animal testing. In the US, ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was founded.

Applied research includes testing treatments for diseases, defense research, toxicology, breeding, and also cosmetics testing. According to the European Union, 93% of the animals tested are vertebrate species. In 2011 alone 11.5 million animals were used for animal research. After the research, most animals are euthanized.

Here are more facts about animal testing:

1. Most cosmetics tests are performed on mice, rats, and rabbits. Tests are done for eye and skin irritation. Sadly, the shaved skin of the animal does not get any pain relief.
2. Some tests involve killing pregnant animals and testing their fetuses.
3. According to the Humane Society, to register a pesticide, it is required to have been used in 50 experiments to as many as 12,000 animals.
4. In the US, over 100 million animals are abused for testing in labs every year.
5. 92% of experimental drugs that are found to be safe in animals fail in human trials.

Veganism vs. Animal Testing

Veganism by definition is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. The very core of this lifestyle seeks the betterment of society by respecting all forms of life.

On the other hand, animal testing is also known as animal research, animal experimentation, and invivo testing. It is defined as the use of non-human animals in experiments to seek control of variables that affect behavior or the biological system of the animal. The testing is usually done in research facilities conducted by medical schools, pharma companies, and cosmetic companies. The focus of testing something on animals is to develop fundamental knowledge of an organism for medical importance.

So, can veganism and animal testing go hand in hand and still promote in hand a sustainable lifestyle?

The FORs and NOTs to Animal Testing

According to Cruelty-Free International, millions of animals have been used in laboratories in search for a vaccine for Covid-19. Pharmaceutical companies have been “in the rush” to discover a vaccine to cure this disease and end this pandemic. But with the tests, they have been conducting, animals have been suffering. Cruelty-Free International is an organization that advocates human-relevant non-animal testing.

Arguments against Animal Experiments include:

1. The use of animals in experiments is cruel and ineffective. Animals do not get the same diseases that people do. Heart disease, cancer, HIV, and other major diseases that are experienced by human beings are only artificially induced in animals by mimicking the condition. Laboratories belittle the complexity of the human condition (genetics, environmental factors, psychological issues, and others)
2. Animal testing is wasteful. According to the European Medicines Agency, out of 48 cancer drugs approved almost half of it showed no survival benefits. The difference according to the agency was “clinically insignificant”. In the US, only 6% of pharmaceutical companies are approved. The research and development cost $50 billion per year.
3. Animal testing is dangerous. A drug that is found to be safe in monkeys was found to have caused 320,000 heart attacks and strokes in patients worldwide. A test conducted in the UK caused a severe allergic reaction that nearly killed a patient. The drug was successful in monkeys but failed to predict the dangerous side effect to humans.
4. Animals are different from humans. There are many differences in monkey and human brains when it comes to structure and form. The data collected from monkeys can be misleading and cannot be conclusively used for humans. Animals do not get the diseases that we do such as Parkinson’s and other types of major diseases.

Arguments FOR Animal Experiments include:

1. Animal testing is the first critical step to finding a vaccine. Medical breakthroughs have been possible because of animal testing. Over the last 100 years, medical breakthroughs are because of the research and development using animal testing as a process.
2. It is a crucial process to ensure that vaccines are safe. The race to produce the vaccine that can help the world get rid of a virus needs to be safe on humans. Scientists need to test these vaccines on animals to make sure that they are safe. Skipping animal testing can be dangerous to humans.
3. Animals are the best and most appropriate research subjects. Our DNA is shared by chimpanzees (99% of it). Mice are 98% genetically similar to ours. The function of our vital organs is practically the same with other mammals especially the 2 mentioned above.
4. Animal research is highly regulated. Laws have already been in place since the 1800s to protect the animal’s welfare. The federal Animal Welfare Act has been in place since 1966 to make sure that animal testing is regulated. Regular inspections are conducted to ensure that these policies are enforced.

Fighting Diseases without Animal Testing?

The question remains: Can you be vegan and not oppose animal testing that combats diseases? Can you not oppose the principles of veganism if you agree to animal testing that combats diseases? Is there such a thing as “practical” animal testing? Or is there an alternative to animal testing? If so are they as effective?

There are other alternatives to animal testing but when it comes to alternatives that are directed towards combating diseases, we still have a long way to go. Once new alternatives have been developed, maybe they can be a sustainable option. To date, these are the alternatives to animal testing: cell cultures grown in laboratories, human tissues donated from surgery, computer modeling to replicate the human body, and others.

Bottom line: “Practical” Animal Testing

By the very definition of being vegan, you have to be “practical as far as possible”. So, when it comes to combating disease for the welfare of each individual, you have to be practical. Practical in the sense that you put primacy on your own health over the health of an animal. Medical breakthroughs have happened in the past because of animal testing. If you are to agree to animal testing for cosmetic’s sake, then that is a different story. What you have to look into is the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act in research facilities that fight diseases. If the only way to find a vaccine (during our age and time) is by animal testing, then as a citizen of the world, you should consider your responsibility to fight the disease.

1 comment

  • Animal Testing and Vegan lifestyle cannot co-exist in the purest form as of now. May be in the future , we may create human cells for testing purpose but is that morally and ethically correct. Lets not open a pandora’s box and stay where we are at the moment.

    Salil Sawant

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