Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.
– Anatole France
A couple of months ago, while towelling off our Vizslas – puppy, Grüner, and five-year-old, Rioja – after a bath, I found myself feeling lucky and grateful that the “all-natural” dog shampoo we use did not irritate their eyes or make them sick when they lapped some of it up, as they are prone to do. We’ve used this brand of shampoo for a couple of years, but I realized at that moment that I had always taken its safety, effectiveness, and gentleness for granted, primarily because we have always trusted the local pet store where we buy it to research such things and only offer the best choices. If only all retailers were so conscientious.
Animal sensitivity was on my mind that day because I had recently seen a friend’s social media post about the passing of his beloved Flemish Giant rabbit, whom he loved as most of us love our dogs, cats, and other furry family members. Rabbits, of course, are one of the most commonly used animals in research and testing, second only to guinea pigs. Although the numbers have reportedly declined over the past two decades, more than 200,000 rabbits were held in laboratories in 2012, and many were used in experiments that cause pain and suffering. In 2012, over 35% (77,206 individual rabbits) were subjected to these types of tests. The more I researched the issue, the more I realized that rabbits are widely used for experimentation and testing mainly due to practical, rather than scientific, reasons; they are small and typically docile, easily restrained, inexpensive to maintain, and they famously breed prodigiously.
Most people, including me, have always associated the use of rabbits in laboratories with toxicity testing for cosmetic, personal, and household products. The best-known tests are the eye and skin irritancy tests, which are extremely painful and cruel. While being experimented upon, rabbits are often locked into full-body restraints to prevent them from touching eye or skin sores. Even ignoring the ethical horror, which apparently many companies are able to do, these tests are not very reliable. Thankfully, increasing attention is being paid to the development of alternatives to replace the use of rabbits and other animals for these categories of toxicity testing.
For medical products such as vaccines, drugs, and medical devices, rabbits are used to test pyrogenicity (the ability of the product to induce a fever). Additionally, because of their high rate of reproduction, rabbits are also used to test developmental or embryotoxicity (the danger that a product will harm a pregnant female or developing fetus). Rabbits are also used in basic and biomedical research, as models for diseases and disorders of the eyes, skin, heart, and immune system, as well as asthma, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes. Another common use of rabbits is in a painful procedure to produce polyclonal antibodies, which are widely used for a variety of research and diagnostic purposes. In addition to the suffering caused by these experiments, the laboratory environment itself is also particularly noxious to rabbits, causing great stress, weakening their immune systems, and making them more prone to illness. Of course, rabbits aren’t the only animals to bear this suffering. Dogs, primates, guinea pigs, mice, birds, farm animals, and fish are also subjected.
Defenders of animal research might say that “it’s better for these animals to suffer than fellow humans,” and that “animals are the best indicators of a product’s safety.” However, animal research has never proven to be better than other models, nor particularly successful at all. In fact, the use of animal ‘models’ has never been validated, and the claim that animals are necessary for biomedical research is unsupported by scientific literature. There is actually growing awareness of the scientific limitations of animal research and its inability to make reliable predictions about human health. Paired with the ethical case against animal use, which is particularly powerful for us, this lack of effectiveness is why the biomedical community would be best served by the development of non-animal models that overcome the limitations of an increasingly archaic system of animal experimentation.
Why is this important to a maker of handcrafted food?
It’s important to us because we are a team of people who share a mission to leave the world better than we found it and who believe that our health and happiness depend upon the wellness of our entire ecosystem, that animals and other innocent beings should not be subjected to suffering, and that we choose with our actions, every day, the way we want the world to be.
We can start by looking for products that are certified “Cruelty Free” and not tested on animals. The Leaping Bunny Program is our favorite and most comprehensive cruelty free production certification, and other good resources are the more cosmetic-focused Cruelty Free Kitty (I know), and PETA. Unfortunately, the words “not tested on animals” on a label is akin to seeing “all natural” on can of 7-UP made with high-fructose corn syrup. It doesn’t mean much and is not regulated in any way. Even if a brand, e.g. Tide, does not directly test on animals, there is a good chance that the manufacturer of the chemicals used in its product(s) does. That’s why these certifications are so important.
Thinking about the lives of these laboratory animals in captivity for even a few moments is sickening, but also motivating. Upon realizing the extent to which animal testing still occurs, my wife Megan and I immediately began replacing cosmetic, personal care, and household cleaning products with alternatives that are not tested on animals. Interestingly, we interact with food businesses and entrepreneurs often, and animal testing never comes up, even among those professed to care about sustainability. We’re not saying that people aren’t thinking about it, but it just never comes up in conversation. We hope to change that. Food businesses are some of the world’s biggest users, by volume, of cleaning and sanitation products due to regulated (and needed) food safety standards. It’s our opinion that we should apply the same care to choosing our cleaning supplies as we do to the ingredients used in the foods we make. Therefore, we pledge that Big Spoon Roasters will use only 100% certified cruelty free cleaning and sanitation products by the end of 2016, and I predict we’ll achieve this goal much sooner. We hope you consider doing the same.