Q: What led you to advocating against animal testing?
A:I’ve always been an animal person, but the experience of being a conscientious objector to high school dissection really opened my eyes—both to the plight of animals used in research, testing and education, as well as the need for every person who sees something they think is wrong to stand up and be counted.
The ridicule I encountered was remarkable (classmates actually improvised a “fetal pig song,” which they’d sing each day as I’d leave the room to work on my essay in the school library), but this experience only reinforced my feeling that I was doing the right thing.
By the end of my grade 11 year, two more classmates had joined me in objecting to dissection, my essay dealing with the inadequacies of regulations for the protection of animals in labs got me an A+ grade in that class, and the experience of being a conscientious objector had created a budding animal advocate and vegetarian.
Q: Can you briefly summarize the work HSI does on the animal testing issue and how they are set apart from other organizations?
A: A lot of organizations talk about ending animal testing, but HSI gets results. Our professional team of scientists, political specialists and country offices are active on nearly every continent, working with governments and companies to advance humane science and end animal testing.
HSI’s work with the pesticide industry and government authorities in Europe has led to the largest-ever reduction in animal testing requirements in a product sector (a 40 percent cut compared to other country requirements), and we’re now working to extend this precedent to other parts of the world. Earlier this year, HSI launched the multi-national Be Cruelty-Free campaign to bring a long-overdue end to animal testing for cosmetics.
Today we’re working hand-in-hand with an ever-expanding network of partners in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, the United States—and also still in Europe, where we’re campaigning to preserve the promised ban on selling cosmetics that have been newly animal-tested anywhere in the world, which is due to come into force in March 2013.
Ultimately, though, I think it’s HSI’s professional approach of building partnerships for progress that most distinguishes us from other animal groups. We don’t engage in “naming and shaming,” but instead work to bring companies and other interested parties to the table so that we can identify common ground and work collaboratively for change—which happens a lot faster when we can all speak with one voice!
Q: What do you think has been the greatest milestone achieve to date in the fight to end animal testing?
A: The real game-changer in my opinion was the 2007 U.S. National Research Council report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” because it was first and foremost a scientific document which laid out the scientific case against the current animal-based approach to safety testing and the need for a totally new paradigm.
By envisioning “… a not-so-distant future in which virtually all routine toxicity testing would be conducted in human cells or cell lines,” the report has triggered unprecedented debate within the scientific community, and has led to an unprecedented investment by governments and companies worldwide in a range of new non-animal tools and technologies.
In the words of the former director of the US National Institutes of Health: “Animal testing won’t disappear overnight, but the agencies’ work signals the beginning of the end.”
Q: Where do you see animal testing headed over the next 10 years?
A: Towards extinction! The move to embrace “21st century” non-animal safety testing continues to gain momentum and has officially gone global. It’s already possible, for one-fifth the cost of a single animal cancer test, to screen up to 1,000 chemicals in 200 different robot-automated cell or gene tests in as little as 2 weeks.
In the face of these incredible gains in terms of cost, efficiency, and more human-relevant test results, coupled with the law-changing clout of organizations like HSI, I have every confidence in our ability to replace most, if not all, animal testing by 2025.
Q: Who are your heroes/heroines and why?
A: Many of the people I most respect and admire won’t be anyone you’ve heard of. They’re not high-profile politicians, celebrities or campaign figureheads, but the many hard-working political assistants, civil servants, company scientists, and others who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to advance more humane and relevant approaches to testing and research for the betterment of both animal and human welfare.
Q: Do you share your home with any pets?
A: My work requires me to travel too much to be a good human companion to an animal (but that doesn’t keep me from glomming on to friends’ pets at every opportunity!)
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Travel, ethnic cooking, fitness, mixology, movies and theatre, history and art.
Q: Do you have any tattoos? If so, of what?
A: I’ve got a “leaping bunny” tattoo on my right upper arm.