Trillium News

Testing the Boundaries(A)

This summer, a national government gave the police new powers to crack down against protestors and stop demonstrations. But this wasn’t the work of John Ashcroft and didn’t involve the FBI’s much-criticized interviews of young peace activists in advance of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Instead, it took place across the Atlantic, where Tony Blair released new measures to stem some controversial tactics used by U.K. animal rights protestors, including demonstrations outside the homes of pharmaceutical executives. Even some long-time campaigners against animal testing, like Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, condemned those tactics and expressed some support for the new restrictions. But the controversy shows that while the fight over animal testing has largely faded from the headlines in the U.S., the issues involved are far from resolved. In this article, we bring readers up to speed on both new developments and unresolved issues associated with animal testing, and how we help clients ensure their investments reflect their own values in this contentious debate.
Efforts to restrict animal testing in the U.S. date back at least to the 1890s, but the modern movement against animal testing burst into the public consciousness in the U.S. in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. The movement gained steam with public protests, shareholder resolutions, and effective media campaigns showing pictures of rabbits subject to painful eye irritancy tests. In the more than 30 years since then, animal welfare activists have achieved important victories. Experts estimate that the use of animals in laboratory tests has dropped by about half in the U.K. and U.S. over that period, even as new drugs and consumer products have proliferated. Many pharmaceutical and consumer products companies have significantly reduced their use of animal testing, and some consumer products companies have demonstrated leadership in eliminating the use of animal testing altogether.
In addition, some company scientists and government regulators have begun to accept the use of various alternative test methods that reduce reliance on animal testing. And new legislation goes into effect in the European Union this month restricting the use of animal testing in cosmetics. The legislation bans animal testing of finished cosmetics within the EU starting this month and (with a few exceptions) it bans the sale of cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals within five years, by September 2009.
There are some positive changes in U.S. policies too. U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations require animal testing for pharmaceutical and medical products, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Health and Safety Administration require animal tests of certain chemical compounds. However, in 1993 Congress passed legislation to promote more acceptance of non-animal test methods within these and other regulatory agencies. In response, the National Institute of Environmental Health developed an interagency coordinating committee to review and approve non-animal test methods in order to speed their approval by the dozen federal agencies represented on the committee. The European Union has developed a similar committee, and both committees have approved a number of alternative tests for things like for skin corrosivity that otherwise can require painful tests on animals. The number of alternative methods approved is still relatively small, but some testing experts are encouraged by the range of research underway through the federal National Toxicology Program and research centers such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing and the U.K.-based Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. Both these institutions have received significant funding from leading consumer products companies to support their work.
[As a side note, there’s an interesting debate about whether animal tests are reliable ways to ensure that pharmaceuticals, food additives, and chemicals are safe and effective for human use. It would take the rest of this article, or indeed, this newsletter, to describe these arguments in detail. In short, many scientists argue that animal tests are necessary to find cures for new diseases and protect human health from ineffective medicines or dangerous products. Animal welfare advocates have countered these arguments by pointing out the difficulties involved in assessing human hazards from animal test results. These criticisms have gained some acceptance from the mainstream scientific community. In fact, the February 2004 issue of the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal includes an article that questions the usefulness of a significant portion of the animal studies that the authors reviewed. At the very least, it’s an ironic fact that new non-animal test methods are often validated by multiple laboratories to show they accurately predict effects in humans, while many of the animal tests they replace have never been validated and are just the traditional way of doing things. Thus, approved alternative tests not only eliminate suffering of animals; they may also prevent future human suffering from unintended side effects that animal tests would not have predicted.]
Despite the progress they’ve made, many animal welfare advocates remain frustrated with the persistence of animal testing, particularly for products where tests are not required by law, such as cosmetics and most personal care and household products. The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) estimates that animal tests for these products account for only 10-20 percent of the total animal tests conducted in the U.S. each year with cosmetics testing accounting for less than 1 percent of all animal tests. However, as the HSUS’s Vice President for Animal Research Issues, Dr. Martin Stephens, and its Senior Vice President for Research, Education and International Issues, Dr. Andrew Rowan eloquently put it in an HSUS publication, such testing, “figures prominently in the animal research controversy [because] it raises issues such as the ethics and humaneness of deliberately poisoning animals, the propriety of harming animals for the sake or marketing a new cosmetic or household product, the applicability of animal data to humans, and the possibility of sparing millions of animals by developing alternatives to a handful of widely used procedures.”
Some consumer products companies have responded to this ethical challenge. Certainly well known supporters of animal welfare like The Body Shop, Tom’s of Maine, and Aveda have made a commitment to not use animal testing on the cosmetics, personal care, or household products they offer. But according to the “Caring Consumer” lists kept by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, major companies like Estee Lauder, Revlon, and Trader Joe’s have also made that commitment. Other companies have taken more limited steps than pledging a permanent ban on animal testing. Gillette announced a moratorium suspending animal testing on its products in December 1996, but remains on PETA’s list of companies that test because it has not committed to a permanent ban. In June 1999, Procter & Gamble announced that it would end animal testing for all its non-food and non-drug products, which represents 80 percent of its product lines. However, PETA asserts that this ban applies only to P&G’s existing products, and doesn’t include a commitment to end testing of new products or new ingredients. In March 1999, Colgate-Palmolive announced a moratorium on animal testing for its adult personal care products, but remains on PETA’s list of companies that have not pledged a permanent and total ban on non-required animal testing. In addition to these steps, many consumer products companies have provided significant support for research into alternatives to animal testing, and some animal welfare advocates praise both P&G and Colgate-Palmolive for lobbying the FDA to accept non-animal tests on some of their medical products where testing is required.
At Trillium Asset Management, we work to track the status of all the companies in our portfolio with regards to animal testing so that we can screen clients accounts based on their preferences, such as not holding consumer products companies that haven’t committed to end all their animal testing. Interested clients can talk with their portfolio managers to discuss what animal testing screens are appropriate for them.