The new ecological awareness of the 1990's has made women increasingly aware of their power and responsibility as consumers. Today, consumers, the majority of them women, spend well over two billion dollars on beauty and cosmetic products every year in Canada and 200 billion in the U.S.
Up until recently, most cosmetics and household products have been tested on millions of animals, mainly using two outdated and barbaric tests: the Draize Eye Irritancy Test and the Lethal Dose Fifty Percent Test.
No accurate figures are available, but somewhere between two and ten million animals in North America are subjected to painful procedures and killed in order to test the new products that consumers purchase. Moreover, most of the tests are of dubious value for evaluating human safety.
What is surprising to many people is that animal testing is not required by law either in the U.S. or Canada. These cruel and unscientific tests continue for many reasons. These include government and industry inertia, industry's belief that these tests will protect them from law suits, and lack of public awareness.
The Draize Eye Irritancy Test
The draize eye irritancy test is a method used for assessing the degree to which a substance or chemical mixture irritates the eyes. The usual subjects are young albino rabbits which are tightly restrained for a number of days after a test substance (like deodorant, mascara or detergent) has been dropped onto one of the animal's eyes. The other eye serves as a control. Rabbits' eyes are most often used because their corneas are more sensitive than humans'. The damage to the eye is graded according to the size of the area damaged, the degree of swelling and the amount of pus and irritation. Blindness, ulceration and hemorrhage of the eye may occur. The results are considered valid if at least six rabbits survive the test for each substance.
The Draize test is a crude test for determining irritancy as it can do so only on a pass/fail basis.
Moreover, due to the many anatomical and physiological differences between the rabbit and human eye, the Draize test may correlate poorly with actual human experience. Dr. Stephen Kaufman of the New York University Department of Opthalmology maintains that the Draize test is scientifically unsound and inapplicable to clinical situations. "Reliance on the test is in fact dangerous because the animal data cannot be reliably extrapolated to men. Substances proven safe in the lab animals may in fact be dangerous to people".
In fact, histamine and selenium are examples of two chemicals that produce severe reactions in the human eye but not in the rabbit eye.
As Dr. Murray Cohen of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Toronto says, "I consider the Draize test archaic, cruel, irrational and dangerous and the rationale for its use has nothing to do with human welfare."
Dermal Irritancy Test
Another common test is the Dermal Irritancy Test. This test involves applying the test substance directly to the shaved skin of an immobilized animal for a period of time. After examination of the resulting rashes, burns or blisters, the animal is either recycled into another test or destroyed.
Fortunately, safe alternatives to such testing already exist. Test tube cultures of both rabbit and human corneal tissue have been successfully utilized to observe the effects of chemical irritants by means of their direct action on cells. These cell culture tests can produce more accurate results than those provided by the Draize test.
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