Animals are used to determine acceptable levels of toxins and pollutants in the environment and in pharmaceutical products and especially to determine the acute and chronic toxicities of new chemical compounds. Animals are subjected to: electric shock and burning (to test lotions and salves), to stress (to test sedatives), to direct exposure of sensitive tissue, especially the eyes, to compounds (to test for irritation), and to diseases (to test new drugs).
In the UK, of the 3.1 million experiments performed on animals in 1986 (3.4 million in 1988), most were for the testing or development of drugs and other medical products. Of the other experiments: 55,301 were for pesticide tests, 23,565 were for herbicides, 72,150 were for industrial products, 9,309 were for household products, 15,652 (17,000 in 1988) were for toiletries and cosmetics, 8,988 were for food additives, and 35,512 were concerned with environmental pollutants. Some 39,142 experiments required inhalation of substances like tobacco smoke by animals.
Research funded by the European Commission reports that over 30,000 animals are killed by cosmetics tests in the EU every year.
A standard test, known as LD50, is based on the determination of the single dose of a product necessary to kill 50% of the animals used in the experiment. Although manifestly cruel and thoroughly discredited on scientific grounds, statistics in the UK show that its use in fact increased in 1988.
Another standard test, known as Draize, involves placing chemical compounds directly into the eyes of rabbits to determine toxicity. The reason for the use of rabbits is that their eyes are much more sensitive to damage than human eyes and their tear ducts produce very little fluid so that any irritant placed on the eye remains there. The chemicals tested include cosmetics, pesticides and detergents. The animals are kept under restraint for 72 hours subjected to increasing doses and then observed for at least 21 days. Positive reactions include: ulceration of the cornea, inflammation of the iris, haemorrhage, gross destruction of the conjunctivae, obvious swelling with partial eversion of the eyelids. Basically the eye is eaten away by the chemical, after which the animal is killed. In the UK in 1986, 11,263 tests were performed.
In 1990 the European Commission proposed a directive, due to take force in 1992, to double the use of animals in cosmetics testing, by making testing compulsory for all previously untested ingredients (including many widely used products, dating from periods prior to the introduction of such tests).