I find myself bracing against the heinous details of animal torture at least once a week in my work, when I stumble across a paper that forgot to mention “animals”, “murine” or “this test isn't actually done on humans so its usefulness is pretty limited, sorry we bothered doing this, don't bother clicking the link!” in its title. Most days, it's dozens of papers. The details of these kinds of tests are recorded without emotion in thousands – millions? – of papers, sometimes with euphemism about the torture methods involved, and sometimes without (I don't know which is worse).
I never intended to end up in a job or an industry that involved animal testing or exploitation. I thought that studying nutrition was a pretty safe space away from all of that medical stuff. Only pharmaceuticals and cosmetics use animal testing, right?
As it turns out, no.
Despite the face of wholesome “clean” eating and being in tune with nature, modern-day western nutrition, dietetics, herbal medicine and naturopathy centre heavily around animal testing. Today, this industry relies on animal trials to prove the safety and efficacy of nutraceuticals and herbal constituents. At the heart of it, no supplement and few herbal medicines are really vegan.
As practitioners and students, we're definitely encouraged to use human trials as our main resources but human trials only go ahead if the substance being studied has already been proven safe and effective – either through historical use (e.g. it's already part of the human diet or has been used for a long-ass time) or... animal tests. When it comes to manufacturing commercial supplements and herbal medicines, the FDA and TGA require ingredients to go through extensive testing before they will approve a formula for sale as a medicinal product (or in some cases, for sale at all). In America, that means claims on a product's label aren't backed by the FDA without extensive, conclusive testing; in Australia, it means that the product can't be sold or imported at all.
Basically – supplement companies and many modern practitioners are invested in the continuation and expansion of animal testing, so that more human trials can occur, so that they can get approvals, so they can get more formulas on shelves, so there are more “new” and attractive (often: premium priced) treatments, and everyone makes more bucks – and helps more clients! I'm not denying that animal testing helps direct us towards treatments that may be evermore effective ... But so does all types of testing. In fact, animal testing is pretty bogus in terms of reflecting efficacy or safety in humans (despite them sharing our "human" emotions like empathy for another's suffering, which apparently needed to be proven using a torture test!)
Holistically, this looks ridiculous. Quantum physics, every spiritual tradition, and a naturopathic holistic understanding of health says that what you do to others is a reflection of yourself; and that what goes around comes around. Inflicting death, pain, and literal torture on other beings is not an expression of healing; it is an expression of desperation, fear, pain, and a pathetic struggle for false power.
What's the solution to this?
I think there is a deeper issue at play that needs to be addressed: Distrust of the body, and distrust of nature. Maybe a distrust in Spirit / God / life-force. In an effort to control our own mortality, pain and suffering, we are dissecting everything we can in an effort to identify the "cause". Naturopathy is very big on treating the cause, but it's taken a wrong turn down Biomedical Lane. Frankly, there is little need to measure your salivary cortisol levels -- you can tell when you feel stressed (or a decent practitioner should be able to tell, and help you develop your own inner guidance!). There is no need to measure the corticosteroids in a mouse observing pain in its friend; you can see that the mice are experiencing empathy! You can feel it. Or -- and here's the real message -- you can develop that kind of feeling, knowing, wisdom. We don't need more supplements proven to heal leaky gut or support the methylation cycle in MTHFR clients, we need to re-establish our own guidance systems and reconnect with nature. We need to help each other work on our own compassion, gentleness and empathy -- the most important skills to have in this new age.
"James, are you telling me to throw out my dispensary, trash my supplements, and disown natural medicine?" Nah, nothing so rash if it doesn't fit with you! Go for it if you're keen though, I encourage all fierce leaders to take big steps to eradicate animal testing! But if you want to stick around, let's embrace this messed up healing modality with all our heart and grow it into a new golden era. Here's how I see the solution playing out, and I invite you to come along:
1. We do the work to reconnect with our inner healers (practitioners & non-practitioners alike; we're all healing, all the time), and reestablish our trust of our own bodies. Reconnect the lines of communication. This is a life-long process with no ending, your participation is all that is required. You can teach others.
2. Hold an awareness of the truth. Let yourself feel for the animals in studies you are reading (but be gentle with yourself); speak up about animal testing with other people (be gentle with them); reflect on how the situation feels to you and what kinds of thoughts you have about it.
3. Intend to find alternatives. Take up opportunities to learn about healing modalities that don't rely on animal cruelty; experiment with a more holistic and method of prescribing (and self-prescribing)* and see what happens!
4. Actively support alternatives when we find them. Organisations like MAWA Trust are developing alternative methods to replace the use of animal in biomedical research. Check them out here →
* The holistic model that naturopathy is supposedly based around shouldn't need to prove anything further about herbs and foods appropriate for prescription. Eating seasonally, using the doctrine of signatures, and relying on the vast information on herbal traditions should be enough. Throw in the even bigger amount of information from modern-day evidence and clinical trials, and it's probably cool to stop testing on animals right now. Do you need proof that a particular strain of probiotics reduces that particular cytokine? Does it really change your treatment plan? Do your clients need to be involved in this cycle of pain and torture of over 20 million animals each year, or do they need guidance on how to change their lifestyle, find their own inner power, and choose the right foods this season?
I'm not trying to do myself out of a job here, honestly. Scientific evidence is neat; human trials are so valuable to our collective healing and our understanding of ourselves and each other. Just leave our little friends alone, please.