The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


'Methodist Recorder' debate (1985-86) Letters

Responsible choices

The Rev Peter Mundy's concern for animal welfare is commendably Franciscan. Unfortunately, however, his letter (December 12) creates the impression that companies producing cosmetics, weed-killers, household products etc, derive pleasure as they spend vast sums of money unnecessarily 'poisoning' and 'blinding' laboratory animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. The letter caricatures the serious research undertaken by scientists around the world. Their sole interest is to prevent 'poisoning' and 'blinding' occurring with humans.

Governments very properly insist that products in domestic, commercial and industrial use must be safe for humans (and their environment). Any new material must be thoroughly checked in the laboratory before it is used on a widespread basis. This is a simple concept in theory, but is difficult to achieve in practice.

Few, if any, materials are totally safe. Even common salt can kill. Careful understanding is required, therefore, of the benefit to be gained against the risk involved.

Assessments have to be made to cover extreme conditions as well as normal usage. People have been known to drink weedkiller and washing-up liquid. Shampoo regularly gets in the eyes. Lipsticks are eaten.

Testing must cover not only the immediate effects, such as 'poisoning' and skin irritation, but also the longer-term risks of cancer and even those abnormalities which might only appear in future generations.

Thus far the comprehensive testing of products on animals under controlled laboratory conditions has been the principle method for predicting effects with humans. Over the years, it has been possible to correlate the results of laboratory testing with subsequent experience when the products are in general use. The process is lengthy and expensive, but is also reassuring.

Research is taking place to develop simpler, shorter tests which, because they do not involve animals, will also be less expensive. The attraction is obvious. But until it can be established that such tests really do predict human safety reaction, it is understandable and desirable for authorities and companies to take a conservative position, as human lives are involved. This development cannot be rushed. No-one wishes to increase the risk of another Thalidomide problem.

By all means, let there be stricter controls on the use of animals in safety testing, but let us remember and be thankful, such testing is designed to ensure that our and future generations will enjoy a healthier and a safer life.

In this complicated world, responsible choices have to be made. The choice that man should have priority over animals does not seem to be inconsistent with the biblical story of creation.

David L Wigley

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