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May 12, 2011

Animal Testing of Seafood (Yes, Seafood!)

Humane Society International

  • Thousands of mice die in agony each year to test shellfish. Adam Gault/Getty Images

  • Animals endure needless pain and suffering. AHWLA

  • Mice suffocate to death. Christina Pedrazzini/Getty Images

  • Are mice dying for your shellfish dinner? istock

Imagine being curled up on the floor, convulsing in pain and gasping for breath—doomed to die slowly from paralysis or lack of oxygen. This is the fate of hundreds of thousands of mice each year after they are injected with extracts of shellfish meat to test for potentially harmful toxins.

Many of these poor creatures suffocate to death. What’s worse is that this horrible suffering is completely unnecessary because non-animal alternative test methods exist. Humane Society International is at the forefront of efforts to end the shocking suffering resulting from shellfish toxin testing.

Marine biotoxins can accumulate in the flesh of shellfish such as oysters and scallops and cause serious sickness in humans if eaten. Batch testing of shellfish is conducted to detect these potentially harmful toxins. However, the traditional test used is not only extremely cruel, it’s also unreliable, which is why some countries such as Germany, Austria, Finland, Poland, Portugal and Romania have largely abandoned its use in favour of superior, animal-free test methods.

Bad news for humans and animals alike

Seafood toxin testing is particularly gruesome in that researchers inject groups of mice with an extract of shellfish meat and then literally wait to see how long it takes for them to die. No pain relief is given despite the fact that the animals involved can endure severe trauma.

The test isn’t just bad news for animals in laboratories; it’s also of little comfort to consumers because of its serious scientific limitations. Experts around the world, including the World Health Organisation, acknowledge that it consistently fails to detect certain toxins altogether, and when the same test is repeated but in different laboratories, it can produce completely different results. Test results can even be affected by something as simple at the animals’ gender or age, meaning a shellfish sample injected into a male mouse in one laboratory could produce different results from the same sample injected into a female mouse in another laboratory. If you eat shellfish, how safe does that make you feel?

Donate to support HSI’s campaign to end animal testing around the world.

HSI’s campaign

The good news is that completely non-animal test methods do exist that offer far greater reliability. Humane Society International has been lobbying hard in the European Union and our efforts have been rewarded with a new regulation accepting the use of these alternative tests for most toxins. However, despite the urgent need to end appalling animal suffering and better protect human health with the most reliable tests available, politicians have allowed EU countries to continue using the animal test until 2014.

HSI believes this delay is unacceptable and we’re pushing hard for the phase-out timetable to be shortened, and for countries around the world to follow suit. HSI experts have uncovered previously unseen documents detailing which countries have switched to humane testing and which are continuing to cause unnecessary suffering. We’re closing in on the worst offending countries, whose continued use of animal tests where non-animal alternatives exist constitutes a breach of EU law.

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