Millions of laboratory animals are used worldwide in tests to assess the safety of chemicals. Chemicals form the basis of, or are added to, a huge variety of products in everyday use. This includes paints, dyes, plastics, pesticides, household cleaners, cosmetics and food additives (also see: medicines and vaccines).
EU and UK laws tell manufacturers how they must test their chemicals for safety. Different laws cover different types of product, and abiding by these laws usually requires the use of animal tests. Because many chemicals are very poisonous, the safety tests can involve considerable suffering and animals are always killed at the end of a test. The types of animals used include large numbers of mice, rats and fish as well as smaller numbers of rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and dogs.
To be able to use chemicals safely, it is necessary to know exactly how poisonous each one is, both to people and to wildlife. Some chemicals are very dangerous and, even at low doses, can cause the death of people exposed to them. Others are safe unless people are exposed to them at a very high dose, or for a long period of time. The types of tests, their exact purpose, and the suffering they cause to animals varies. Examples of tests include:
- using guinea pigs to assess whether a chemical may cause an allergic skin reaction
- studying whether exposing rats and mice to a chemical over their whole lifetime causes cancer.
What we think
We believe that the need for safety tests on animals can and should be questioned. Not all chemicals are of real value to society, and not all the tests are useful in deciding how to protect the users of a chemical.
Many animal safety tests are very poor at predicting exactly what a chemical will do to people. The development and use of more reliable alternative methods would benefit human health and safety, as well as eliminating a great deal of animal suffering.
Our views on the use of animals in safety testing are more fully explained in 'The use of animals in toxicity testing' (2010) (PDF 432KB)