The rise of animalitarians

by Lucy


Concerned with or seeking to promote animal welfare: “groups sending animalitarian aid”.
A person who seeks to promote animal welfare; a philanthropist.

This week I was invited to the Lush Awards in London. This was of particular interest to me as during my time at Defra working on chemicals regulation, the issue of animal toxicity testing was regularly on the agenda.

Lush, a cosmetics brand that trades on its ethics, recently launched the Lush Prize. The Lush Prize is £250,000 to be awarded to science that stops animal testing.

I arrived at an obscure East London address filled with graph paper, robotics, and a range of audio visuals. This was the digital dissection room. A space specially created for Lush by Something & Son and Inition, with a vegan feast created from wonky vegetables and recovered waste food by Tom’s Forgotten Feast. 

Peter Tatchell and Ellie present the awards in the Digital Dissection Dining Room

Each dining table came complete with iPads where, when placed in front of our dinner plates, an augmented reality of an organ appeared in my dish. I had a heart which could be manipulated on the screen to reveal the chambers, blood vessels and internal matrix.

Augmented reality heart dissected on my dinner plate

I curiously explored the with the same morbid fascination as when I first went to Gunther Von Hagen’s Bodyworks exhibition years ago in Bricklane. I often say ‘Science paints my world’. I am eternally curious to learn how I’m constructed, where I came from along with the world around me. But I’m also an #animalperson and don’t feel that the knowledge should come at the price of animal suffering.

The Winners of this years Lush Prize all demonstrated that human welfare can go hand in hand with animal welfare, that good science advances animal welfare, and in the 21st century testing on live animals is unnecessary.

The Science Prize went to the European Commission Joint Research Council for their work on developing a liver toxicity test. They combined a high throughput liver cell toxicity test with high resolution imaging to research the mode of action of a range of toxics. Basically its a test with liver cells in a 96 well robotics plate, where toxics are added and changes in cell colour are measured. The cells turn different shades of red depending on toxicity. This is the first in-vitro test to be developed for rapid assessment of liver toxicity. You can find out more about The EC JRC and it’s work on in-vitro alternatives to animal tests here.

All evening it was inspiring to learn how just how global and collaborative this work is, with work showcased from Russia, US, Canada, India, Japan, Latin America, Middle East, Africa… Particularly inspiring was hearing from Prize winners JAVA from Japan. This tiny NGO is comprised of only 3 full-time staff and a network of volunteers but succeeded in getting cosmetics brand Shiseido to change their animal testing policies.

InterNICHE work to normalise the alternatives to animal testing models in Universities. It’s important to ensure that students don’t become desensitised to animal suffering. InterNICHE accepted their award with their stuffed dog George. George is a very life like mannequin (doggyquin?) complete with artificial heart beat, breath sounds and realistic skeleton beneath the artificial fur.

I questioned the researchers after the presentation on how these models reduce testing even if eventually you have to move on to live animals. They explained that there is a significant training requirement for just learning basic diagnostic techniques. By providing highly realistic artificial models in training, for learning intubations of listening for heart rates, when eventually they work with a live animal they will be better skilled and less likely to harm the animal.

George the ‘doggyquin’. A model developed as a learning tool for scientists working with animals. Designed to reduce numbers of animals required for early stage skills development.

And the final piece of research to catch my attention was research from Denmark using human placenta tissue to test chemicals for endocrine (hormone disruption) activity. The hormone system is a complex system of chemical signals that maintains homeostasis (balance) in the body. Waste placenta’s are collected from maternity units and used to test for estrogenic and anti-estrogenic activities of chemicals used as ingredients in the cosmetics and skin care industry.

Many chemicals have been found to mimic or disrupt these chemical signal pathways in the body. An example of a hormone disrupting group of chemicals are phthalates which are used to soften plastics, are used as a component of perfume, and are thought to be both obesogenic (make you fat) along with interference with sex hormones.

Many ingredients of beauty and personal care products are now being shown to be toxic, exhibit sub lethal effects on your biochemistry or disrupt hormones. Do you really need it? And is it really worth it?

Another group are the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which are released as a by product of combustion and industrial processes. Exposure to even small quantities can result in significant changes as they can signal the cascade of other processes in the body. The very worst of these compounds are now subject to international regulation under the Stockholm protocol, plus the European Commission now has a specific working group on Endocrine disruption assessing the science and developing the appropriate policies. But to date much of the evidence of chemical activity has come from testing on live animals.

What is even more sad is that these tests are not well understood; small changes in variables can lead to very different answers depending on the stress levels, diet, breed of animal etc.

Evidence shows that many animals under laboratory conditions, particularly rodents, are mentally stressed. Stress is generally defined as the state that results when the brain instructs the body to make changes in order to adapt to pressure and the individual feels that needs will exceed the personal resources which are available. The response is fuelled by stress hormones that flow through the body, altering every organ and biochemical function, with wide-ranging effects on metabolism, growth, and reproduction. The stress hormones released alter the endocrine system thus potentially altering any other endocrine effects from toxicity test.

Researchers often dismiss questions concerning environmental influences on their experimental data by claiming that such effects “balance out,” because their control animals are housed under the same (stressful) conditions. But the conclusions drawn from such experiments are specific to the stressed animals and cannot necessarily be extrapolated to healthy animals.

“I think animal testing is a terrible idea. They get all nervous and give silly answers” Stephen Fry.

Apparently Lush cannot currently trade in China as the law there is that all cosmetics on sale must be first tested on animals. Sadly many beauty companies that had stopped testing on animals have resumed in order to access Chinese customers. It’s horrifying that company executives in those beauty companies will have sat around a table recently and made the decision between animal welfare and profits in China. They could have made the decision the other way and chosen to lobby the Chinese government and provide the resources to demonstrate alternatives. Therefore it is really important to communicate that these non animal testing models exist.

This image is taken from a recent Lush Campaign.
“Ask experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘because they are like us.’ Ask experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.” Charles R. Nagel.

Lush are to be commended for their progressive market place advocacy. They boldly highlight that their business model does not require animal tests so why do others? Hopefully more businesses will follow suit. But what I have increasingly come to understand is that there are cosmetics and skin brands brands that say they don’t test on animals but when you investigate a little deeper you find out they are owned by another brand that does. If you are interested in finding out more check out Ethical consumer. The Sept/Oct issue is ‘beauty products’ special issue.

I wonder what the response would be if instead of labelling something as free from animal testing, that companies had to clearly state that ‘this product has been tested on animals’. Would that change consumer behaviour and company policy?

I’m going to nail my colours to the mast on this issue. Animal testing for cosmetics is pretty twisted. My hope is that animal testing will soon be seen in a similar light as slavery; unacceptable and brutal. Animal testing belongs in the history books not in laboratories.