Anti animal testing protesters marching through the streets of London. Photo by Abi Skipp

WE BRITS like to see ourselves as a nation of animal lovers and we loudly and heartily condemn what we see as  – and what undoubtedly is – the barbarism of bull fighting, bull running and the burning of the bulls in Spain and some Latin American countries, but we’re not quite so vocal about cruelty towards animals carried out under our noses.

Despite the use of animals to test cosmetics products or their ingredients being banned in the UK, animals are still used in experimental procedures. In fact, in 2019 3.4 million procedures on living animals were carried out in the UK, with around half of these being experimental, while the other half were for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals, and these are the Government’s own statistics.

Within the EU, the ban on animal testing of cosmetic ingredients came into effect in 2009, and in 2013 it became illegal to market or sell cosmetics where the product or its ingredients had been used in animal testing, although the UK had led the way by banning it in 1998.

Testing could be required

Yet now, Cruelty Free International (CFI) have said animal testing on ingredients exclusively used in cosmetics could be required, after being told by the Home Office that the government had “reconsidered its policy”. The Government said it was aligning itself with a decision made last year by the appeals board of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which said that some ingredients used only in cosmetics needed to be tested on animals to ensure they were safe.

Campaigners argue animal testing is no longer scientifically necessary for cosmetics. Dr Katy Taylor, director of science and regulatory affairs at the charity CFI stated: “ECHA has already asked for new animal tests … involving thousands of animals and undermining the public’s confidence in the way the EU is upholding its animal testing bans”.

Animal testing for drugs

Animal testing for drugs, however, is still allowed and the UK is seventh in the top ten animal testing countries in the world. In fact it is more than just allowed, UK law requires experimentation on animals for any new drug. These are not ‘just’ rodents being used; in fact the drugs must be tested on two different species of live mammal, one of which is required to be a non-rodent.

The majority used are rodents but the rest include fish, reptiles, dogs, cats and primates.

In 2019 – the last year on record – there were 16,100 applications by companies for the three types of licences you need to perform animal testing in the UK. A Personal Licence- for the individual testing; Project – for the experiment itself and an Establishment Licence for the institution itself. 

Protected species?

These licences are usually granted for medical veterinary and research purposes, and, although rules state that animals can only be used when the research cannot be carried out in any other manner, they also state that what they call protected species – dogs, cats, primates, horses etc – can be used when there is no alternative. Who decides if there is no alternative? Considering that since 2010 18,000 tests were undertaken on these specially protected species, that would be the drug companies themselves I expect.

And we’re not even counting the animals bred specifically for testing or those killed as a result of it, which, in 2019 saw the figure at 84,100 for those animals involved in basic research procedures which resulted in their deaths.

One could write a whole article on the aforementioned cruelty to bulls or what happens to the poor animals in countries such as China where the Wuhan dog market in the Hubei Province allows dog meat restaurants to roast fully conscious dogs alive in what can only be indescribable pain for these animals, but who are we to pass judgement when we not only allow fox-hunting, a truly heinous pastime, but also experiments on these animals ourselves?

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