Retiring the Rabbits
Yesterday we took a giant stride forward on the issue of animal testing, specifically skin irritancy testing on animals.
For more than 60 years, testing for skin irritation has involved locking groups of rabbits into full-body restraints while cosmetics, pesticides, and other chemicals are applied without pain relief to shaved skin on the animals’ back to see how much damage is caused. It’s been a defining issue for the modern animal protection movement, with this crude test inspiring decades-long consumer boycotts and prompting a new class of companies to foreswear animal testing and to use “No Animal Testing” branding on their products.
While consumer pressure has been vital in motivating some companies to reduce animal testing and to make a greater investment in alternatives, boycotts cannot solve the problem of animal testing that is encouraged or expressly required by law. This is where The HSUS’s international team of scientific and government affairs specialists comes in.
Last year we launched a campaign, together with our global and political arms—Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund—called “Hop to It, Europe!”. It was designed to urge the 27 member countries of the European Union to commit to a strict timetable for eliminating animal tests and testing requirements as soon as scientifically proven non-animal methods are available. In the case of skin irritation, several high-tech human skin models have been available since early 2007, yet EU regulators took no action to require their use as an alternative to the cruel rabbit tests.
Our campaigning prompted the European Parliament to pass a resolution in May that chastised EU bureaucrats for moving too slowly to abandon obsolete animal tests. This compelled the European Commission to institute accelerated procedures for acceptance of non-animal tests in the future.
Then, just yesterday, EU member countries moved by overwhelming majority to adopt the non-animal skin irritation tests as full and complete replacements. Being that EU law forbids experiments on animals where an alternative method is “reasonably and practicably available,” animal skin irritation testing in the EU will be prohibited once the new methods are adopted and relevant testing regulations are revised, sparing tens of thousands of animals each year from painful experiments.
In the wake of this achievement, we’re bringing our “Hop to It” campaign to North America, with a challenge to U.S. and Canadian authorities to follow the EU’s example and make 2009 the year that animal skin irritation testing is relegated to the history books once and for all. North America has lagged far behind Europe on animal testing issues, and it is time for us to catch up.