Cosmetics testing on animals: Do you know as much as an 8th grader?

The students were looking forward to my visit, the teacher revealed before their arrival in the classroom. They’d been studying the use of animals in cosmetics testing and education when she initially contacted me to ask about a guest speaker.

As a former teacher myself–and one who’s spent some time with 8th graders–I had judiciously inquired about the use of graphic images. The shocking side of animal testing for cosmetic use and vivisection can be too upsetting and graphic for this student group, she told me, mentioning their empathic natures. By the time of my visit, she explained, they’d have some idea about what goes on in laboratories anyhow. She asked if I could talk about how to change laws and educate others, what people are doing for animals, why we should care, and how students can take action if so inclined.

She ended with this: “I think it’s so important for the students to see and speak with local people who are working diligently for a cause that speaks to them: of course this is the bedrock for a functioning democracy.”

You gotta love that! I pulled together a 26-slide PowerPoint and then faced the usual challenge: fitting everything into a 50-60 minute period. When all was said and done, another 15-20 minutes would have been nice, but the message about animals, activism, and personal commitment had been conveyed, and the kids left the classroom in a shower of smiles and thank yous. Here’s the nutshell version of the program.

Are animals conscious?

I asked them what it means to be conscious, and they nailed it. Are animals conscious? The reply was an unequivocal yes. We looked back nearly 400 years to the time of Rene Descartes‘ influence (“the father of modern philosophy,” 1596-1650), when animals were considered nothing more than organic machines lacking consciousness and were, therefore, lacking the ability to experience pain and suffering. (Contemplating the horrific excesses of vivisection in those days makes for a gruesome exercise, indeed.) I wanted them to understand the thinking and beliefs that grew out of that dark history, some of which linger on in speciesist attitudes about nonhuman animal pain–that it’s not the “equivalent” of human pain (“sure, they feel pain, but not like WE do…”)–as if this might somehow matter.

I mentioned that sentient beings–all of us–value our lives and have an interest in living. At this point, photos of the four most commonly-used sentient nonhumans (rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits) appeared. This was juxtaposed with all the cosmetic products of suffering we use on a daily basis–unless we buy cruelty-free.

Next up: Two statements on the fact that cosmetics testing on animals is not required in the U.S.–one from the pro-animal research American Physiological Society (“The federal regulations for the approval of new drugs or pesticides require animal test data, while cosmetic safety laws simply require that product safety be demonstrated”) and the other from the Humane Society of the U.S. (“The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act… prohibits the sale of mislabeled and ‘adulterated’ cosmetics, but does not require that animal tests be conducted to demonstrate that the cosmetics are safe“) (HSUS fact sheet).

Thousands of ingredients are already in use and proven safe. Cruelty-free companies can formulate new products with these proven ingredients or use alternatives to animal–testing on artificial tissue grown from human skin and corneal cells, test tube toxicity tests, doctor-supervised clinical tests on human volunteers (skin irritancy, e.g.), and others.

Which countries have banned animal testing?

These savvy students beat me to it and told me that the European Union–all 28 member states–had banned animal testing. Yes–in 2004, the E.U. banned the sale of finished products tested on animals; later it banned the use of animal-tested ingredients. Norway, Israel, and India have also put bans in place; India just strengthened its position by banning the import of animal-tested cosmetics.

I couldn’t tell these know-it-alls (I say that with total admiration!) anything about our own U.S. legislation–H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, “a bill to phase out cosmetic animal testing and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.” Introduced by Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia (Democrat, 8th district) last March, the bill awaits a committee hearing with 55 co-sponsors thus far (54 Dems, one Republican as of this writing). Heck, I wouldn’t really be surprised if I learned that these kids wrote that legislation themselves!

Frog guts…real…and virtual

I only briefly touched on animal use in education, mostly because I wanted to tell them about Froguts Inc., a “bio-eLearning” company that creates virtual dissection modules for K-12 students (products include frog, squid, starfish, cow eye, and fetal pig). They already knew (ho-hum!) about student choice legislation, which gives students the right to refuse to participate in dissections and instead opt for an alternative. According to AnimaLearn, 18 states have enacted student choice state laws or policies. Our state (Montana) isn’t one of them–is yours?

A new concept…speciesism

I introduced them to the term speciesism by way of asking what racism is. A simple definition appeared on the screen: “Discrimination or prejudice based on race.” Now, defining sexism was easy: “Discrimination or prejudice based on sex.” Here’s where it got interesting: What is speciesism? They answered based on the previous definitions, but I could tell the cogs and wheels were spinning as they processed this new idea and–just perhaps–adjusted their schemas to include exploitation of animals along with the other –isms of discrimination featured in the broad struggle for social justice.

We wrapped things up by looking at activism and how those who hear the call can take action. Contact your U.S. House representative and ask for support of H.R. 4148 (check). Buy cruelty-free cosmetics and household products. Find the issue (nonhuman animal-related or otherwise) you feel strongly about and educate yourself first, then others. I had generated a substantial list of suggestions that ended with these two simple, personal actions: stop and think before you buy (was somebody harmed for this product?), and speak out against cruelty and exploitation (other than perhaps some courage, this costs us nothing!).

Two quotes wrapped it up–one from The Lorax, the other from Dr. King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Find what matters to you, I encouraged them. When you do–when you truly care about an issue of injustice–silence is not an option.
Take action, learn more:

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No country for old bears


US Fish & Wildlife Service photo

“Grizzly bear euthanized due to history of conflicts.” “Montana wildlife officials euthanize problem grizzly bear.” “Old grizzly euthanized, tried to get into building.” “Intrusive grizzly euthanized.” “28-year-old grizzly euthanized.”

Those Montana headlines greeted us a few days ago. This must have been one dangerous bear. Intrusive. A “problem bear.” An habitual offender.

Yes, a 28-year-old grizzly has been “euthanized…in response to its [sic] history of conflict and poor physical condition”:

But hang on…we’ll have to go way back to 1988 and ’89 (when Griz was an impulsive juvenile) for that “history of conflict.” Since then–a span of some 25 years–the bear lived within Yellowstone National Park boundaries and “was not involved in any other management conflict actions until the incident this week.” The news release further reveals that the bear was captured after attempting to break into a building containing horse grain in Jardine, MT, a mere stone’s throw from the Yellowstone border. The way I read that, “attempting” to break in means he didn’t actually break in. Can’t we cut the old guy some slack?

But no, Griz had to die. And let’s be clear: This 28-year-old bear was not “euthanized,” he was killed–it makes no difference that the execution occurred at the agency’s state laboratory in Bozeman. I doubt anyone despises the dishonest use of that word more than I do, a euphemism just as frequently used to describe the deaths of young and vital “nuisance” animals–calculated to imbue a killing of convenience with an air of mercy; designed to convince the public that it was for the animal’s own good. FYI, here’s the etymology of “euthanize”: “a gentle and easy death,” from Greek euthanasia “an easy or happy death,” from eu- “good” + thanatos “death.”

This was neither a good nor happy death for a bear whose “history of conflict” amounted to two incidents a quarter century ago. And while his age and physical condition are cited as additional reasons justifying his death, setting up death panels for elderly wildlife is not the state’s job.

“So they killed the bear for being a bear,” posted an online commenter to one of the numerous and unquestioning media regurgitations of the agency’s news release. While grizzlies can live to be 30 in the wild, according to the National Wildlife Federation, most die before age 25. This old soldier might have succumbed to his age and the coming winter anyhow, but how I wish his long life could have ended in his home–the wild environs of Yellowstone–lulled to eternal sleep by the wind and the snow, his body recycled by his neighbors, the scavengers, according to nature’s design. This would have been a good death. The agency laboratory in Bozeman is no country for old bears.

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Now is the winter of our (predator) discontent

Ah, the Northern Rockies. Soaring mountains. Rushing streams. Beargrass and aspens. Mountain bluebirds. Deep forests, wide open prairies, abundant native wildlife. What’s not to love?

Well, it depends on whom you ask.

“I want them to open their (expletive) eyes,” said Toby Bridges, founder of Lobo Watch(Sportsmen against wolves–united we stand!). Bridges wants Missoula County to follow Ravalli County’s lead in drafting a wolf “management” policy.

Bridges believes that the state management agency, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is incapable of “putting together effective wolf control.” While I certainly have my own gripes with FWP (continued wolverine and fisher trapping, wild bison mismanagement), anyone with half a brain can see what would go wrong with issuing fiats on a county-by-county basis.

Down in Ravalli County, which borders Missoula County to the south,

It’s not at all unusual to spot trucks from Ravalli County sporting bumper stickers that advise, Wolves: Smoke a pack a day or No grizzly reintro in the Bitterroots or Save 200 elk, kill a wolf. I once saw a hand-lettered job that advocated spaying and neutering “enviros.”And now, having dug up a state law from circa 1930 that allowed for predator bounties, the Ravalli County Livestock Protection Group is calling for a “wide-open season on predators.”

At least one rancher is unhappy that livestock producers “will have to foot the bill for the bounty. There should be a tax on the Defenders of Wildlife or the federal Fish and Game. They are the ones who put them (wolves) here.” This comes from someone who grazes his animals on public land at ridiculously low, taxpayer-subsidized grazing fees.

But Montana’s county vs. state predator management struggles pale in comparison to Idaho’s most recent actions. The state’s Senate Resource Committee just passed a bill (S 1305) along to the full Senate with a “do pass” recommendation:

The bill’s sponsor, a sheep rancher, called for the live bait provision because “the darn things keep coming at us in the night … You just literally can’t find ’em.” (Spokesman-Review) The bill passed out of committee on a party line 7-2 vote. Imagine being the two dissenters in that goon squad!

So extreme is Idaho’s Senate proposal that U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)–the author of the federal legislation (along with Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT) that removed wolves from Endangered Species Act listing–is concerned that it goes too far (see update at end). And no wonder. Get a load of this:

One of the two dissenting Democrats is concerned that the bill “…sets no parameters for the use of live bait, and she worries that could lead to the possibility of torture of these animals used as bait.” Wonder what Sophie thinks of this nimrod plan?

Back at the Missoulian, the Mule Deer Foundation’s regional director is also belly-achin’ about too many predators. “I would suggest the commission (FWP) look at predator quotas for mountain lions, bears and wolves. I will be an advocate for deer hunters to take some time to coyote hunt to give our deer a chance.” Did you catch that? Our deer. Hunters’ deer. The deer who grew to be fleet of foot because they evolved with pressure from predators. The predators now reviled as competitors for “our” deer.

Now is certainly the winter of our predator discontent, and every time you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Update: “Fighting back tears,” the sponsor withdrew his bill. Full details at the Idaho Statesman.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.