Has my dinner been tested on animals?

Source: Flickr/ plasticchef1

Source: Flickr/ plasticchef1

Last month, the food company Barilla, whose products include pasta, sauces and ready meals, announced its position on animal testing.

At Barilla we do not test our products or raw materials on animals, nor do we fund, commission, co-author it or otherwise support it, either directly or through third parties.

The policy also stipulates that its suppliers use non-animal testing methods unless required by regulatory authorities.

So what motivated Barilla to issue such a policy? An article in The Plate reported that in June this year a letter from PETA to senior management at Barilla expressed concern about experiments where rats were force-fed additives and fatty acids to assess health benefits of wheat. The rats were then killed and their livers removed and dissected. The experiments had been conducted and/or funded by Barilla.

Source: Flickr/  Francesco Colazingari

Source: Flickr/
Francesco Colazingari

Did the spotlight on Barilla’s animal tests lead management to weigh the benefits of animal testing against the damage it could do to its brand image?

Barilla has joined other companies that have issued similar policies, for example Nestle, Coca Cola and PepsiCo. But there are other companies that have been questioned by PETA about their testing practices on animals. For example:

Kraft Foods:

… experiments on pregnant mice who were fed an experimental sweetener (arruva) and then killed; mice who were given high doses of caffeine before their brains were removed; and mice who were force-fed human fecal samples before they were killed so their bowels could be dissected.

Kikkoman Corporation:

… feeding tubes were repeatedly forced down rats’ throats to administer fermented soy milk; mice were infected with influenza and killed; the ligaments in the legs of mice were cut and portions of their knees removed to induce symptoms of osteoarthritis, including chronic joint inflammation; and mice were given colitis and later killed. In the Kikkoman-supported experiments that we wrote to you about in 2010, rabbits were fed high-cholesterol diets in order to induce atherosclerotic lesions and later killed; rats were force-fed soy sauce through surgically attached stomach tubes, after which they were “sacrificed by decapitation … followed by rapid removal of the brains”; and guinea pigs’ backs were shaved and then irradiated by damaging ultraviolet light before they were killed.

Danone:

… pigs were forced to ingest oxygenated water and then had tubes inserted into their stomachs and all of the contents expelled, prior to being killed; experiments in which mice were fed a high cholesterol diet in order to give them atherosclerosis, after which their aortas were removed; and experiments in which monkeys were forced to eat a high carbohydrate, high-sugar diet in order to induce obesity and insulin resistance and were then fed omega-3 fatty acids to test for any effects.

(references to the original research articles have been removed in the above quotes; they can be found if you follow the links)

The Plate website reported that after publication of their article, Danone contacted PETA “to work with them and to eliminate animal testing”. That’s good news.

Animal testing by the food industry can be undertaken for various purposes, such as testing food additives. It’s also been claimed that “Health food fads spark huge rise in animal testing”, and cruel experiments are done because of our “growing fascination with ‘superfoods’ ”. Animals are also used to test pet food.

Is animal testing of foods or food additives necessary?

As outlined in a letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to PETA, the FDA does not require “a food or beverage company to conduct laboratory experiments on animals”. However, animal testing has become the default standard for the FDA. Similarly, Foods Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) informs us:

Food additives are approved only if it can be shown no harmful effects are likely to result from their use. To assess their safety, extensive testing of food additives is required, including animal studies.

Most food additives are tested in isolation, but we often consume them in combinations. The long-term effects of combinations of food additives are unknown.

Is animal testing of foods or food additives any more reliable than animal testing of drugs?

The short answer is “no”. As anyone who lives with dogs or cats would know, there are foods that are perfectly safe for us to eat, but toxic to our pets. And some of the disgusting things dogs pick up and eat – without any ill effect – would surely cause us harm.

The longer answer is also “no”. An ethical evaluation of animal testing of food additives pointed out a range of questionable assumptions on which such testing is based. The article which was published in 2011 in the British Medical Bulletin concluded:

The analysis presented suggests there is a strong case for significant changes in food manufacturers’ employment of certain food additives, in the levels of precaution adopted in their legal authorization and in the reliance placed on, and conduct of, tests performed on animals. Or, adopting a more rhetorical tone, it is arguable that in some cases the current evaluative procedures are blunt instruments that entail unwarranted animal suffering, in pursuit of trivial aims and without due regard to longer term public health outcomes.

Source: Flickr/ Dinuraj K

Source: Flickr/ Dinuraj K

* * *

The food and beverage companies mentioned in this post are global companies. Coca-Cola Amatil Limited (CCL) is listed on the ASX. The Coca-Cola Company is Coca-Cola Amatil’s major shareholder.

Information about animal testing carried out or commissioned by ASX listed food and beverage companies is not readily available to the public.

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