24/04/2013 06:15 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 06:12 BST

Let's Honour World Day for Animals in Laboratories - By Making It One of the Last


What a difference a year makes. Last year on this day, World Day for Animals in Laboratories, animal advocates were lamenting the possibility that the European Union would delay its monumental ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics indefinitely. But this year, we have reason to celebrate. The EU passed the ban, meaning that 500 million consumers are now purchasing only cruelty-free cosmetics, and governments around the world are following suit.

The European Parliament had already banned cosmetics companies from tormenting animals in cruel tests on EU soil in 2009. But when the deadline for the last phase of this historic ban arrived last month, all finished products and their ingredients on the EU market could no longer be tested anywhere in the world. The ban has already led many companies to invest in advanced non-animal testing methods, sparing countless rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats and other animals from having chemicals dumped into their eyes, poured down their throats and ground into their abraded skin.

The EU ban reflects the public's conviction that cosmetics should not be valued over animals' lives. And people in other nations are demanding similar legislation. On 1 January 2013, Israel banned animal testing for cosmetics products imported into the country. PETA India is currently campaigning for a ban on animal testing for cosmetics in that country and is receiving support from the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Until now, China has required that all cosmetics products must be tested on animals before they can be marketed in the country. But PETA US funded a team from the Institute for In Vitro Sciences to teach Chinese scientists about a cutting-edge procedure that can be used in place of the painful Draize eye irritancy test performed on rabbits. The Chinese government is now set to accept the test as an accurate measure of product safety. PETA US and PETA Asia plan to continue working with Chinese researchers to implement non-animal test methods and with government officials to have the results of the tests readily accepted.

We are making great strides towards ending the use of animals in cosmetics and toiletries tests. And people are also questioning the morality and efficacy of using animals in experiments involving drugs and medical procedures. An Ipsos MORI opinion poll commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in 2012 showed that more than one in three (37 per cent) Brits now object to using animals in medical research. Their number has been rising steadily since the 29 per cent recorded in 2006 and 35 per cent seen in 2010.

History shows that tests on animals let us down time and time again. A full 92 per cent of drugs that pass in animal tests fail in humans. But non-animal testing methods such as cell and tissue cultures, imaging machines and computer models are almost always faster, cheaper and more accurate than animal tests. Thus, governments are re-examining laws regarding animal testing and investing in new methods that will better predict results in humans.

The US, faced with a public outcry over its position as the only nation in the industrialised world that continues to conduct invasive experiments on chimpanzees, is cutting funding for the experiments and considering the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. This historic bill would end the use of chimpanzees in experiments and retire all chimpanzees imprisoned by the state to sanctuaries.

In the UK, Parliament is examining the controversial "secrecy clause" embedded within the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act of 1986. According to the Section 24 secrecy clause, information related to experiments on animals is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and as a result, it is a crime to reveal details about what animals were used in experiments and what they were subjected to.

But the public deserves and demands the right to know how its money is being spent, as evidenced by an opinion poll that found that 80 per cent of people agree or strongly agree that information about animal experiments should be publicly available. PETA and many other organisations are calling for the abolition of Section 24 and greater transparency in animal experiments. The importance of accountability and greater openness is acknowledged by the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, which stated that "[w]e consider the current levels of secrecy surrounding animal experiments to be excessive" and that "[t]here should be a presumption in favour of complete openness".

The public was rightfully appalled last week when undercover footage shot at Imperial College appeared to show staff violating welfare standards by mistreating animals in their laboratories. But it isn't enough just to be appalled. Now more than ever, as animal testing is being scrutinised and debated in the public forum, animal advocates must continue to speak for those whose voices have been ignored for too long.

We can win the fight against animal testing and eliminate the need to mark World Day for Animals in Laboratories ever again.