Searching for Products Free From Guinea Pig Testing
Guinea pig physiology is so different in some respects that it would have prevented instead of assisting in the discoveries of some medications. Florey, an Oxford scientists who carried out animal tests following Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, commented in 1953, “…mice were tried in the initial toxicity tests because of their small size, but what a lucky chance it was, for in this respect man is like the mouse and not the guinea pig. If we had used guinea pigs exclusively we should have said that penicillin was toxic, and we probably should not have proceeded to try to overcome the difficulties of producing the substance for trial in man.” In 1987 Dr Walter Sneader described how “it was fortunate that Florey and Chain did not decide to use guinea pigs when first testing penicillin, for they may then have abandoned the project as these animals are hypersensitive to penicillin”.
Just how many guinea pigs are we talking about?
Somewhere between 17-70 million animals are tortured and killed in the US each year through vivisection according to Mercy for Animals. That number includes over 200,000 guinea pigs. The Animal Welfare Act does not require laboratories to report the number of birds, mice, and rats which account for 80 to 90 percent of all experimentation. That explains the wide gap in the estimation.
How does that compare to the number of pet guinea pigs?
American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Inc. (APPMA) estimates that there are 3.3 million pet guinea pigs in American homes. How about other countries like the UK where guinea pigs are very popular pets? Guinea pigs were used in just over 30,000 scientific experiments in the UK in 2006, representing less than 1% of total animal research. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association estimated there to be about 1 million guinea pigs kept as pets in the UK. By these numbers, the UK appears significantly more guinea pig friendly.
What is all of this testing for exactly?
Guinea pigs are generally used for toxicity and safety tests for the effects of cigarette smoke, alcohol, and drugs. They also contribute to studies in spinal cord injury, tuberculosis, the auditory system, kidney function, osteoarthritis, nutrition, genetics, infectious diseases, and reproductive biology.
Where do all of these guinea pigs come from?
Charles River Breeding Laboratories (CRBL), owned by Bausch and Lomb, is the largest breeding company in the US providing 40-50% of all the rats, guinea pigs, hamsters mice, rhesus monkeys, imported primates, miniature swine and gerbils. According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), animals are also bought from auctions, pounds, shelters, ‘free to good home’ ads, and other random sources. Hopefully that makes you think differently about putting an ad in the paper when you no longer want your pet.
But aren’t there laws in place to keep things in check?
Large companies are slow to change when there are no legal consequences for what they are currently doing. While it may be socially unacceptable, testing on animals is still quite common. While cosmetics like Clinique and Almay no longer test on animals, listing products as “cruelty-free” doesn’t necessarily mean what consumers would expect. The New York Times reports that “cruelty-free” doesn’t really mean anything because the government doesn’t closely regulate use of the word. It’s a similar situation to packaging labelled as “organic” or “healthy.” Vicki Katrinak, the administrator for the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, says “The F.D.A. says on its web site that companies can make any claim about their animal testing policies because there is no regulated definition of what is cruelty-free.” When a product claims it has not been tested on animals, it may include the product itself and not the ingredients. PETA’s list of companies that are not “cruelty-free” may surprise you.
Guinea pigs are no longer the largest number of animals that fall to this ugly fate but they still bear the cultural acceptance of being a disposable pet. Their name is no longer attached to the idea of an animal but to the practice of experimentation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see these practices end and have guinea pigs reclaim their own unique identity? That is why so often we choose to say “cavy” and hope the word’s general acceptance grows. It’s our own protest to these acts of cruelty and to society’s general attitude.
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