I think a lot of people can see why researchers studying cancer may rely on animal testing, but it's not always as accurate as they'd have you believe. Remember that whole cancer scare over saccharin? Turns out that the tests were done on rodents — and that saccharin causes bladder cancer in rodents because of things specific to rodents (that humans don't have).
In fairness to the ethical scientists out there, this is likely not widespread. But the Humane Society has reported that it has uncovered a university (universities do much of the testing in the U.S.) purchasing from "Class B" dealers… people who purchase dogs and cats and keep them in confinement before selling them to labs where they can be used for harmful experiments.
How harmful? Georgia Regents University was literally subjecting dogs to painful and lethal dental experiments. If you want the full details, head over to the web page at the previous link, but a word of warning: The video, narrated by Kim Basinger, is very graphic.
I'm not sure which is a sadder fact — the previous point or this one.
The good (?) news is, most facilities doing animal testing avoid Class B dealers and instead opt for testing on animals specifically bred for animal testing — unfortunately, few truly survive (or thrive).
If they successfully make it through testing with no serious issues, they're probably going to be used for subsequent trials. They likely aren't suitable for becoming pets (because they weren't properly socialized). They'll be test animals until the day they're sent off to a really nice farm where they get to roam and play with all the other animals. And by farm I mean euthanized. The euthanization is generally done humanely (at least). Unfortunately, most of them die or are euthanized during or after the surgery. They do have reserves for animals, especially chimps, that are just retired, but they're really just the (very) lucky ones.
The U.S. does have laws about how you're allowed to treat animals used for testing. The problem? How it's enforced. According to the Humane Society, a company was fined only $10,000 (of a maximum of $300,000) by the USDA when 30 monkeys died in a lab room that overheated after staff members ignored alarms. A year later, the exact same company was fined only $4,500 (of a maximum of $10,000) after an employee sent a monkey through a cage washing machine (which produces water at 180 degrees F), and the monkey died after the severe scalding.
In fact, an audit issued in December 2014 found that the USDA fined 14 percent of the maximum, even when animals died as a result of this type of irresponsibility.
The U.S. doesn't require animal testing on products, though many other countries (whose products are available here) do. The reality is, there's no need to do animal testing for most products. You can use any of the thousands of ingredients already known to be perfectly safe.
Additionally, there are actually tests that can be used in lieu of animal tests. These tests only currently work for short-term safety assessments, of course, but long-term tests are under development.
They don't just test cosmetics or other toiletries on animals like you'd use it. A little kitty didn't get lathered up with your fave shampoo and go viral on Instagram. Sure, they do irritation tests, but those tests may include eye irritation tests in which a rabbit is restrained, and they drip the product into its eyes with no relief.
It doesn't end there, though. They may also repeatedly force-feed the product to an animal for weeks or months to find signs of general illness or other more serious issues or do the so-called "lethal dose" test. What's that you ask? They're force-fed large amounts of test chemicals to determine at what concentration it causes death. (Gross.)
Unfortunately, not a lot of people realize just how harmful and cruel animal testing can be. If you want to get involved but think it's a bad idea to break into a corporation and set potentially dangerous animals free (because that's illegal), check out DoSomething.org's Kidnapped Cosmetics campaign.
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