Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
Many companies test on animals, even those that don’t need to. For instance, perfume companies have isolated all the ingredients needed to make a perfume and it is simply a matter of mixing them. Yet they continue to spray the perfume in rabbits’ eyes, slice their skin open and rub it in and conduct other such terrible tests. This is done by perfumers like Aramis, Balenciaga, Bvlgari, Cacharel, Donna Karan, Dunhill Fragrances, Elizabeth Arden, Gucci Fragrances, Hugo Boss, Jo Malone, Lacoste Fragrances, Marc Jacobs Fragrances, Michael Kors, Missoni, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Tommy Hilfiger and Kenzo.
Toothpaste companies make animals eat their products to see after how many tubes do animals die. Does it prove anything? Has any human ever eaten five toothpaste tubes of goo? But Aquafresh, Close-up, Colgate, Crest, Listerine, Mentadent, Pearl Drops, Sensodyne, Signal, Old Spice, Right Guard continue to do so.
The animal testing and experimentation industry is everywhere. It is secretive, pervasive and profitable. But why this needless exploitation of animals in research, product testing and education? India used to buy over 1 crore frogs a year for school dissection. When the government banned this, it made no difference to the quality of education. Kerala teachers insisted that they should kill something, and the frog suppliers turned into cockroach suppliers until one chief minister stopped this as well. Zoology teachers insisted on the killing of a 1000 animals during the course of 3 years. Ask the suppliers of animals where the nexus is, and they will point their fingers at the teacher. Rabbits used to be tested in the making of injections, even though these are machine made. The government pesticide council has ordered that the testing of animals till they die should be stopped. Thousands of soaps and perfumes do not test on animals, and they are just as good. It has been found that 90 per cent of medicines tested on animals have failed. So why does this carry on?
It is a well entrenched business mafia that continues to insist on animals being experimented on. It is an international, government-sanctioned and -funded, multi-billion rupee business. To give you one example: raids done by my organisation ten years ago found a dealer (a retired forest officer) in Agra who had over 20,000 dead animals in his house as specimen. Most of them were wild protected species: crocodiles, snakes, bats. The police found, through his computer, that he was selling to certain labs in Delhi University. When the wildlife department passed laws saying that no school/college will keep specimen, it was the illegal buyers in this list (who are teachers) that took delegations to ministers to protest.
One researcher in JNU killed a rat a day for over 10 years to prove that when rats were asleep, they were not awake. India has a CPCSEA committee that regulates the experiments on animals. I created this body and it was supposed to stop duplicative and unnecessary experiments. It has gone into the hands of people who pass every kind of experiment for a fee. If they stopped an experiment, the researcher would lose his grant, so it is easier to split the money in advance.
It is simple to get grants for experimenting on animals, from governments and private research centres; for instance, in America 47 per cent of the grants given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have an animal research-based component. In 2015, this came to well over $10 billion in funding for projects that included animal experimentation.
Who benefits? The salaries of researchers and technicians, who carry out animal experiments, provide financial incentives. Universities and other academic institutions profit from the percentage of ‘overhead’ that they receive from the grants for animal experiments from the government. Unthinking politicians and clever bureaucrats allow laws mandating the testing of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, drugs, to assess safety and efficacy. The defence ministry allows testing of guns and gases on animals, the ministry of agriculture allows it for pesticides, the Consumer Product Safety Councils allow it for products, and FSSAI allows it for foods. Everyone benefits – except the millions of animals that suffer and die needlessly.
NGOs also profit, posing as charities that raise billions of dollars from well-meaning people, hoping to find cures for virtually every human disease — even when animal models for human diseases fail to predict what is safe or effective for people.
Animal breeders profit handsomely from breeding and genetically engineering animals. Recent prices quoted from one animal supplier’s catalogue identified white rabbits as high as $352 each, beagles from China for $1,049 and some primates costing more than $8,000 each.
Suppliers of food, cages and equipment related to animal-model research, have a lucrative business. Veterinarians, employed to supposedly care for research animals, are paid highly to ignore the suffering and give their stamps of approval.
Pharmaceutical companies fuel the animal research ‘machine’ by conducting animal studies before moving to the real research on human beings. If the humans suffer or die, the company protects itself legally by saying that trials did OK on animals. These corporate giants use animal studies as a legal safety net by telling courts that they did what the law requires—prove the safety of a drug in animals—and therefore are not liable when a drug harms a human.
Even the media profits from the ‘publish or perish’ mentality within the scientific community to justify animal research by using the results of animal tests to announce ‘medical miracles’, which help them sell more journals, newspapers and increase TV ratings. On an average there are three stories a week on how testing on rats has shown every kind of cure – from miracle hair growth by using an oil used for cooking fast food, to curing cancer. Two days later this is forgotten and the cure is never heard of again.
Government is made largely of politicians and bureaucrats who go with the flow. This government endorsed a proposal made by the last: to put Rs200 crores into 100 acres of land in Telengana to grow animals for research. If I asked them for the same money for better sanitary towels, the answer would be that it is a waste of money.
Anyone who opposes experimentation wilts under opposition from these businesses. I have faced it many times. At the moment I am trying to get capsules made vegetarian. The entire gelatine industry is opposing this. So, media articles come out regularly saying that vegetarian capsules are bad and expensive. The committee regulating consists of industry people. It will take us some time to wade through the vested interests. The government mandated a red /green dot (veg/non-veg) on household products. Immediately the ‘beauty council’ companies who produce things like soap to house cleaners, went to court and got a stay. It has been four years now and not once has it come up in court!
Some animal tests take months or years to conduct and analyse (4 to 5 years in the case of rodent cancer studies), at a cost of hundreds of thousands—and sometimes millions—of dollars per chemical examined. The inefficiency, and exorbitant costs associated with animal testing, makes it impossible for regulators to take up the potential effects of 100,000+ chemicals currently in commerce worldwide, or the more than 1 million combinations of these chemicals to which humans are exposed every day.
In contrast, computer modelling techniques are lightning-fast, and many cell-based in vitro methods are much more accurate —all at a much lower cost than animal tests.
It is time we looked at smarter science that is human-relevant and can provide safer and more effective solutions to human health needs. This investment in humane science promises huge dividends in smarter, better solutions for people and animals.