Guinea pigs, Rabbits, and Rats – Oh My!

Today was the first day of my Independent Study, and naturally, my first instinct was to actually look into what goes down during the animal testing process. Obviously, I had a basic understanding of what happens inside those laboratories from wonderful classics like Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & and Blonde,  and from a friend sharing tales her mother’s job, which was to conduct this testing process. However, I didn’t know more beyond this, and figured if I was going to spend a whole semester dedicating time to exploring this process and how a whole industry is hiding this to their consumers, I wanted to be more informed.

What I was really interested in, apart from the nitty gritty of the specifics, was why rabbits? Rabbits have become the face of the cruelty-free campaign. Just look at the certification standard of “Leaping Bunny.” Even a simple google search of animal testing results in a page chalk full of rabbits, sprinkled in with some mice. What makes the bunny so prone to being a target for laboratories over any other animal that’s out there?

The answer is quite simple actually in that rabbits are docile. Sure, they have teeth and claws, but apart from Donnie Darko and the one-off mall Easter Bunny, when has anyone ever really been afraid of rabbits? Being so docile makes them easy to be restrained, as they always are for added insurance that they can’t fight back. Additionally, rabbits are cheap to maintain as animals, and can reproduce quickly, providing the labs and scientists with a plethora of test subjects once the old ones inevitably die off. The biggest selling point for labs is that rabbits have no tear ducts. This makes them especially useful for eye irritation and corrosion tests. They can cry out any chemical placed into their eyeballs, so they retain more and are thus more susceptible to portraying the full effects of whatever they’re exposed to.

Apart from rabbits, the next most popular animal to undergo testing within the cosmetics industry are rats/mice. It’s already a well-established fact that rats are used heavily within the scientific community to test a number of illnesses, vaccines, etc. Similarly to rabbits, rats are easy to come across, docile, and can reproduce quickly. Unlike rabbits they do have tear ducts, so aren’t much good when it comes to an eye test. However, mice and rats are said to have characteristics that resemble those of us humans. Due to this, scientists favor rats for every test under the sun, apart from the eyes, assuming that whatever reaction occurs within the mouse population is more than likely to occur within the human species under the same product exposure. As I am not a scientist, I can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of this assumption, but we are not rats for some key evolutionary reasons, so from a consumer’s point of view I cannot get behind any claim that starts with “It had this effect on mice so…” because I am not a mouse.

The last animal that appeared during my research into cosmetic testings were guinea pigs. I was surprised to find them here because according to the PETA website, guinea pigs, unlike mice, are protected under the Animal Welfare Act. This means that there are increased regulations when it comes to utilizing these animals as test subjects. One would think that this would deter scientists from opting into testing on them, but there is a key factor that proves to outweigh the negatives. Guinea Pigs have been shown to have biological similarities to humans. Due to this, guinea pigs are only used during certain skin test that look at the external reactions to certain products, but they’re still being forced to sustain themselves within adverse living conditions. It just goes to show you that even though something may be protected, if the pros outweigh the cons anything can be possible.

It’s quite disheartening to read about all of this information and uncover that ultimately the sole reason these creatures are targeted are due to their docile nature and brief similarities to another species that is deemed superior. There is research out there, especially through Humane Society International, regarding changes in practices that prove to be both safe and efficient, but it is clear that these haven’t become as nearly accepted as the animal testing practices. In fact, there are whole countries out in the global market that require, by law, the practice of animal testing.

What does animal testing prove in the long run? It proves that we, as humans, have the ability to control and manipulate the lives of other creatures to create less than substantial scientific claims. In this era of scientific innovation, claims made during animal testing process, especially within the cosmetics industry, hold little to no merit. There’s already vast amounts of research about what chemicals work, what mixtures are safe, and what are not. You’d be hard-pressed to find a company that is seeking to venture into new chemicals or new territories. Sure companies seek out different formulations of the same mixtures, but they still stick with the same tried and true ingredients because antiquated science told us it works and it’s safe. My pH balance is not the same as a rabbit, or a guinea pig, or a rat. They aren’t the ones wearing the products on a daily basis so they should not be forced to endure the testing.

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