Given how common it is for brands to conduct cruel ingredient and product tests on animals, you might have assumed there are no laws that protect our furry friends.
Nonetheless, there actually are regulations that forbid animals from being treated a certain way. The problem is that these standards are woefully inadequate and rarely enforced.
The central legislation on this topic is the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, also known as the AWA. In technical terms, the Animal Welfare Act is meant to provide a “minimum standard of care and treatment for animals” without interfering with “the design, outlines, or guidelines of actual research or experimentation.”
Because the AWA only provides protection for some mammals, the “animals” language is misleading. In 2002 an amendment to the AWA excluded birds, rats and mice that were bred specifically for testing. That caveat means 90-95% of the millions of animals used in today’s labs aren’t legally protected at all. The act prioritizes work being done above the treatment of the animals.
The results of this system are horrifying. In our country more than 100 million animals per year are killed in laboratories. They are often subjected to deplorable conditions before the end of their lives. They may be forced to inhale toxic fumes, be restrained for hours, and be subjected to many other forms of extreme physical pain. Laboratory animals are often isolated, confined in small spaces, and experience psychological distress.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS] is part of the United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] and is charged with enforcing the AWA. Unfortunately there are only 100 inspectors to oversee the roughly 8,000 facilities licensed for animal testing.
Facilities must set up committees to monitor their own practices regarding animal testing, but these groups often consider the interests of the institution a priority rather than the treatment of the animals. Because of this biased system, the oversight tends to be inadequate. Testing facility leaders typically only take action when something is reported or severe mistreatment of animals is revealed.
Even then, the government doesn’t have much power to change these horrific realities.
Even then, the government doesn’t have much power to change these horrific realities. APHIS and the USDA can’t prevent institutions from using animals for testing, no matter how much pain or distress the testing causes. When penalties do arise, they typically take the form of fines that are inconsequential to the large institutions they are charged to.
The U.S. Public Health Service [PHS] attempts to regulate animal testing within the institutions who receive PHS funding. PHS relies solely on committees created by the institutions they fund to assure humane treatment of the animals used for testing. Essentially, the organization counts on the honesty of the institution for assurance that the animals are adequately cared for. As you can imagine, this rarely provides animals within testing facilities with any real protection.
On paper there are protections for animals used for testing across the United States. Sadly it’s clear that in practice these regulations do little to nothing to protect laboratory animals.
So, what can you do as a consumer?
It is really difficult as a consumer to be kind to animals while shopping when companies often don’t want you to know about their testing practices. However, there are a few things you can do:
- You can look for companies that say “No Animal Testing” rather than just “cruelty-free”.
- Talk to employees. Websites can often be confusing and vague, but it’s easier to get a real answer from a human being.
- Search the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International [AAALAC] website for accredited institutions, or search PETA for companies that do and don’t test on animals.
Until we can count on the government to prevent cruelty to animals, it’s up to concerned consumers to boycott unethical brands and demand better regulations.
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