Michelle Thew is the CEO of Cruelty Free International – the leading organization working to end animal testing worldwide. For more than 20 years, Michelle has been an advocate for animals in laboratories around the world, speaking on their behalf in UK and EU Parliaments, and carrying the message to the media, regulators and representatives of the industry from Europe, the United States and Asia. Michelle led the decade-long campaign to end cosmetic animal testing in Europe, which was instrumental in achieving the EU's ban on animal testing of cosmetic products and ingredients in 2013.
Let's meet Madame Thew for the second part of our interview.
You said your organization is taking action to end animal testing worldwide. But do you really think that medicine, for example, can improve without experimenting on animals? How could we replace it?
Reducing and replacing the use of animals in drug development does not mean putting human patients at risk or slowing down the discovery of new treatments. It's the contrary. Drug development is in crisis. Currently, 90% of drugs fail in human clinical trials even though they have passed preclinical testing (including animal testing). For drugs aimed at treating complex and poorly understood conditions, failure is almost a certainty. For example, the failure rate of drugs for Alzheimer's disease is estimated to be over 99%. The scientific literature is now replete with concerns about the current paradigm of animal experimentation, on which drug development remains largely based, as well as calls for a transition to approaches that are more predictive and more relevant to humans of all ages. emergency. Indeed, we have published a groundbreaking analysis of the use of animals in drug toxicity testing, which seriously questions the scientific value of using animals to test the safety of new drugs for humans. Our results show that using dogs, rats, mice, and rabbits to test whether a drug will be safe for humans provides little statistically useful information, and tests in monkeys are just as poor as those using any other species to predict effects on humans. Non-animal methods, which include epidemiological and clinical studies, cellular methods, computational modeling and simulation, human tissue studies, and other approaches, have more predictive value and specificity of human conditions than methods animals, which are based on different species with different tomies and physiologies.
Do you sometimes take illegal actions? I mean, breaking into a lab, for example, to free the animals.
No, Cruelty Free International is committed to working within the law. Individual animals have been released from labs and placed into loving homes as a result of our undercover investigations and other advocacy work, but this has always been achieved through legal means.
Could you explain to us what happens to an animal that has been tested and is no longer "useful"?
Most animals deemed useless or wanted for research or testing are killed and disposed of by the laboratory. How the animal is killed depends on the laws of the country in which the laboratory operates and the oversight and enforcement [or lack thereof] of those laws. Laws vary across the world and often by species regarding how an animal can be killed. Gassing and decapitation are common in rodents, while dogs, cats, and primates can be put to death with an injectable lethal dose of any compound legal in this country. Sometimes animals are adopted into homes or released into sanctuaries to live out the rest of their lives.
When it comes to cosmetics now or any other area that isn't related to science, what do you think of animal testing? How is it possible to end it?
Animal testing is increasingly being replaced by faster, cheaper and more reliable non-animal methods. These modern methods are more relevant to humans and have been shown to predict human reactions better than outdated traditional animal tests. Alternative methods are tests that use 4 simple organisms like bacteria, or human tissues and cells (vitro tests), and sophisticated computer models or chemical methods (in silico and in chemico tests).
However, our experience has shown that replacing animal testing takes much longer than it should. This is unacceptable. In many cases, the problem lies in not requiring the use of the non-animal method and the lack of a common approach for the acceptance of non-animal testing worldwide. If a non-animal method is accepted by regulatory authorities in one country but not another, animal testing will be performed. In a global market, it is important that all countries ban animal testing for cosmetics to prevent testing from simply moving around the world to countries without effective laws. We believe that making and buying cruelty-free cosmetics is the responsible and ethical thing to do. And that's what consumers around the world want.
Cruelty Free International works to harmonize international regulations so that modern human-relevant, cruelty-free testing is accepted and outdated animal testing is phased out everywhere. This can only be achieved with an international approach like ours.
Could you explain to our readers what the “Leaping Bunny” certification is?
Leaping Bunny brands are part of our international cruelty-free program, symbolized by the iconic Leaping Bunny logo that approved brands display on their website and generally on their products. The Leaping Bunny logo offers buyers the best assurance that a company is committed to doing its best to be cruelty-free. There are two types of approval which are requested separately:
- Leaping Bunny for cosmetics (and personal care),
- Leaping Bunny for household and cleaning products.
What is the whole process for a company to get this certification?
To be Leaping Bunny approved brands:
- Must apply a cut-off date, an immovable date after which neither the brand nor any of its suppliers an manufacturers can carry out, order or be involved in animal testing for raw materials or ingredients anywhere in the world. This applies to their entire supply chain all the way back to the ingredient manufacturer.
- Cannot have resorted to any final product testing anywhere in the world after their fixed deadline.
- Must have a continuous monitoring system in place to ensure that all their suppliers and manufacturers comply with the leaping bunny criteria and that all products, raw materials and ingredients are checked for any new animal testing at least every 12 months .
How can you be sure that this or that company really deserves it? And once obtained, do companies allow you to perform regular checks to ensure they are still eligible?
All approved brands must open their monitoring system to regular independent audits (outside of Cruelty Free International) to verify that they continue to meet their fixed deadline for all of their products, including new ones.
I easily think that many companies accept that you control them. In fact, the “Leaping Bunny” certification is pretty catchy, I guess, in terms of marketing. But what happens when a company refuses and you report it? Does she sue? Has this happened before?
Companies come to us for approval, we advertise and promote our program, but we do not target companies to force them to apply. We encourage our supporters to request their favorite businesses to be endorsed. If a business has been approved and does not re-apply or fail to meet the terms of the program, we will remove it from the approved list.
Do you get support from politicians?
Yes. We get the support of politicians from all political parties. The goal of replacing animal experiments with modern, human-relevant alternatives and eliminating outdated animal testing is an issue that unites politicians of all political persuasions.
Is your organization present all over the world or are there countries where it is impossible for you to work? And if so, why ?
The Cruelty Free International team has worked around the world and internationally. We particularly focus on the UK, Europe and the USA, which are the countries and regions that have tended to be drivers in the development and implementation of non-animal methods, but are also among the largest users of animals in research. These are also regions that tend to set regulatory testing policies that have a global impact. These are regions that have some of the greatest challenges, but also the greatest potential for impact.
Who are your main opponents? big pharma? Companies? consumer?
Today, we often find ourselves on the same side of entities that were once our adversaries because they want better science to guide regulatory requirements and animal testing is unreliable, expensive and deeply unpopular with the public. . Despite the growing recognition that animal experiments are deeply flawed and the growing availability of modern alternatives, the use of animals remains entrenched in many areas of research and testing. The reasons why animal experimentation persists are often not scientific. Instead, it may be due to conservatism within scientific and regulatory establishments – it's easier and more comfortable to just do what has always been done.
It seems to me that only laws can change things. What are your relations with politicians in different countries? Are they helping you? Do you find them effective? Don't they tend to be more concerned with economics such as profitability and employment of businesses rather than animal welfare?
Working for changes in the laws in many countries is a key part of what we do. We have established excellent relationships with politicians from various countries who have supported or championed legislative proposals initiated and informed by us. While animal welfare is central to why we do what we do, we often emphasize the scientific and economic benefits associated with non-animal testing methods. For some legislators, their personal concern and commitment to animal welfare is central to their support; in other cases, knowing that this is an important issue for their constituents may be the determining factor and, in some cases, scientific and economic arguments may be the main reason in their decision to support our efforts. The good news for politicians is that there is no reason to choose between science, economics, animal welfare and public opinion on this issue.