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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

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  1. How are laboratory animals used?
  2. What does "alternatives to animal testing" mean?
  3. What kinds of alternatives are there?
  4. Why do some scientists say there are no alternatives to animal testing?
  5. What can I do if I am opposed to dissecting animals at school?
  6. What kinds of alternatives are there for the classroom?
  7. How can I get these alternatives at my school?
  8. What are some arguments against testing on animals?
  9. What are some arguments in favor of testing on animals?
  10. What are the benefits to people from animal testing? What discoveries have been made using animals?
  11. Are there any benefits to animals?
  12. Is there a list of companies that don't test on animals? What about a list of those that do?
  13. What do the words "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals" on a product label really mean?
  14. How can I be sure my cosmetics are safe if they haven't been tested on animals?
  15. Why do most large companies test their products on animals, while many smaller companies can produce high-quality products without animal testing?
  16. What kinds of tests are done?
  17. What products are tested?
  18. What kinds of animals are used in testing?
  19. Where do scientists get their laboratory animals?
  20. Has anyone stopped using animals?
  21. What can I do to help?
  22. Will you add me to your mailing list?
  23. Can you send me pictures of laboratory animals?
  24. Where can I find information about research grants?

Q: How are laboratory animals used?

A: Laboratory animals most commonly are used in three main areas: biomedical research, product safety testing, and education. Biomedical researchers use animals in their efforts to understand the workings of the body and the processes of disease and health, and to develop new vaccines and treatments for various diseases. This sort of research isn't solely for the benefit of human health; it is aimed at developing new veterinary techniques as well.

Industry uses animals to test the safety and effectiveness of a wide range of consumer products, including drugs, cosmetics, household cleaning products, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and more.

Educators -- from elementary school all the way up through graduate programs -- use animals as part of the teaching process. Educational uses include dissecting earthworms or frogs in biology class, as well as advanced training in surgical techniques for veterinary and medical students.

Scientists also study animals to learn more about a given species, its biology and behavior. They may study animals as models of psychological or social behaviors. They may learn from the special skills or abilities of an animal as well. For example, Navy researchers have studied dolphin echolocation -- their built-in biological sonar system -- to improve the human-made sonar systems used on board ships.

In all these cases, if the animals are kept in captivity, or if they are subjected to pain or distress that is not a natural part of their environment, we are interested in finding alternative approaches to help replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used, or lessen any pain or distress suffered by the animals.

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Q: What does "alternatives to animal testing" mean?

A: Alternative methods fall into three broad categories. These are called the 3 Rs: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Replacement is what most people think of when you say "alternatives to animal testing": the animals are replaced, either by methods that don't involve animals at all (absolute replacement) or by those that use only the cells or tissues of animals (relative replacement). Many replacement alternatives involve these in vitro ("in glass") techniques, where the studies are done with cells or tissues in culture. If the cells come from human beings, it's absolute replacement. If they come from animals, it's relative replacement--the method doesn't require a living animal in the laboratory, but often the cells or tissues come from animals killed for that purpose.

Unfortunately, replacement isn't always an option. Some important kinds of testing just can't be done without animals, at least at this time. In these cases, researchers still can work to reduce the number of animals used in a given study. With careful experimental design and sophisticated statistical techniques, it is often possible to use far fewer animals and still get valid results.

Finally, for those animals that do undergo testing, scientists may refine their methods to lessen or eliminate pain, distress, or suffering and to make the animals more comfortable.

British researchers W. Russell and R. Burch formulated this notion of the 3 Rs in their 1959 book The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, which argues that humane science is also the best science. Altweb hosts the full text of this important book.

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Q: What kinds of alternatives are there?

One example of a replacement alternative is no longer considered an alternative--it has become the norm. Not too many years ago, if a woman wanted to find out if she was pregnant, she'd have to get a laboratory test that involved killing a rabbit. Now, she can buy a small kit over-the-counter that tests her urine for certain chemicals--the rabbits have been replaced.

Regulatory agencies in the United States and in Europe recently approved another sort of replacement test. This involves the use of a "synthetic skin," called Corrositex, which can be used in place of animals to test chemicals for skin corrositivity--that is, to see whether a substance will corrode or burn the skin. Altweb featured a news article about this new alternative method.

Computer modeling also can replace certain kinds of animal use, particularly in education. High school biology classes, for example, might practice dissection on a computer model rather than on real, live frogs. Even medical schools are beginning to develop "virtual reality" devices for students to practice on. You can find an example of a "Virtual Frog Dissection Kit." Plastic models and realistic manikins also can take the place of live animals for some educational purposes.

People can replace animals in some kinds of research. Skin sensitivity testing of cosmetics increasingly draws on human volunteers. Human clinical studies and epidemiological studies (looking at the occurrence and distribution of diseases in various populations of people) can reveal a great deal about the processes of health and disease.

Improved statistical design represents one form of reduction alternative. With sophisticated, low cost statistical packages available for the computer these days, investigators can get the most out of the data generated by each animal they use and so need fewer animals altogether.

Another type of reduction method involves sharing research animals. If one researcher is studying rat brain tissue, for example, when it comes time to kill the rat, he may allow other researchers to use the kidneys, liver, or other parts of the animal for their own studies. Re-designing studies to collect as much information as possible from the same set of animals can also reduce animal usage. This kind of sharing can be particularly effective in reducing the number of animals used within a given institution.

The Murine Local Lymph Node Assay (LLNA), another newly accepted test used in product safety assessment, also is an example of a reduction alternative. This test, which determines the potential of chemicals to cause allergic skin reactions, requires use far fewer animals than the old method. For more details, see the Altweb news story.

Refinement covers anything that serves to reduce the animals' pain and distress or to enhance their well-being. These alternatives may come in a great variety of forms. Giving an animal appropriate medication for pain is one example of a refinement alternative. The LLNA, mentioned above, serves as an example of refinement as well as reduction, because it is less painful than the previous method.

Techniques that are less invasive to the animal also may constitute refinement. For example, researchers can use such modern medical technologies as ultrasound or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to look at what is happening inside an animal without cutting into it.

Refinement also includes such things as giving animals bigger cages, offering them appropriate toys to play with so they won't get bored, and allowing them to have companions of their own kind (if that is a natural condition for the species).

The boundaries between these categories of alternatives aren't always clear-cut. For example, some alternative methods involve using lower organisms in place of species higher on the evolutionary scale. Such studies may use plants, microorganisms, invertebrate animals, or even early-stage vertebrates (e.g., chicken eggs) rather than vertebrate animals. Similarly, using frogs instead of mammals, or mice instead non-human primates, also may be considered alternative methods. However, depending on the nature of the study and the particular organisms involved--and on one's perspective regarding "lower" versus "higher" animals--such alternative methods may be viewed variously as replacement, reduction, or refinement techniques.

For more examples of alternative methods, see the Fund for Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) web site and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Also check the "Alternative Methodologies" chapter of the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) book, Essentials for Animal Research: A Primer for Research Personnel.

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Q: Why do some scientists say there are no alternatives to animal testing?

A: In general, they are thinking only of replacement alternatives. Many scientists feel that animal testing cannot be replaced completely by non-animal methods, particularly in biomedical research. They say we simply do not yet understand the complexities of the body well enough to be able to design suitable non-animal alternatives. But if you talk about the 3Rs--reduction and refinement, as well as replacement--most would agree that alternatives are possible.

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Q: What can I do if I am opposed to dissecting animals at school?

A: Some countries and several states in the U.S. have laws or regulations that allow students to choose alternatives to dissection without penalty. Some schools have similar policies. Check to see what the policies are in your area.

A number of organizations offer support and materials to students who object to dissection or who wish to establish a student choice policy. These include the Humane Society of the United States and InterNICHE.

"The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives, and Recommendations," a book written by Dr. Jonathan Balcombe and published by the Humane Society Press, is an excellent resource on the issue of dissection. It is available online free of charge. Or contact the Humane Society of the United States to purchase a print edition (e-mail ari@hsus.org or call 301-258-3041).

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Q: What kinds of alternatives are there for the classroom?

A: A variety of alternatives to dissection are available, including computer simulations, 3-D models, films, and interactive videos. Even medical schools are beginning to develop "virtual reality" devices for students to practice on.

For detailed information on some 3700 alternatives or supplements to the use of animals in education, at all levels of schooling, check the NORINA database. The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Oslo compiled this English-language database of audiovisual and other alternatives in the biological sciences.

The European Resource Centre for Alternatives in Higher Education (EURCA) offers a smaller but content-rich alternatives database, featuring extensive product descriptions, reviews, and user comments. See .

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Q: How can I get these alternatives at my school?

A: A number of organizations operate programs that loan up-to-date dissection alternatives to students and teachers at no cost to the borrower except return postage. These include:

The Humane Society of the United States Humane Education Loan Program.

The International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE):

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)

Animalearn

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Q: What are some arguments against testing on animals?

A: Arguments against animal testing may question the morality, the necessity, or the validity of these studies--that is, whether we have the right to perform such tests, whether we need such tests, and whether the tests actually tell us anything useful.

Animal rights advocates argue that sentient animals have a right to their own life; they are not ours to do with as we please. In its broadest form, this argues against using animals or animal products in any way--that means maintaining a vegetarian diet, not wearing leather or fur, and, at its most extreme, not even keeping animals as pets.

A more moderate animal protection or animal welfare viewpoint is concerned more with our responsibility toward animals, that we have a moral obligation not to cause them unnecessary pain and distress. This stance does not necessarily argue against all animal testing.

Arguments against the need for animal testing may take at least a couple of forms. Some may consider the object of the testing to be trivial. Is it worth blinding rabbits so we can have a new kind of mascara? Another argument is that we don't need to use animals--we can use non-animal alternatives or computer simulations or test on human volunteers.

Another form of objection argues that we can't rely on the results of animal tests anyway. Humans are different from other animals, so the results of animal testing may not apply to us. Just because one species reacts to a given drug or chemical in a particular way doesn't necessarily mean another species will respond the same way. Furthermore, the argument goes, animals kept in unnatural conditions, or animals in pain or distress, aren't going to give accurate or consistent results anyway.

Altweb doesn't object to animal testing per se; rather, we advocate the development and use of alternative methods whenever possible. By this we mean methods that reduce animal use or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animal, as well as replacement methods. We do not believe that all animal use can be replaced with non-animal alternatives in the immediate future. Our web site exists to speed the development and use of new alternative methods by providing a clearinghouse of information and resources to scientists, industry, and the public.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) web site provides some statistics on pain and distress in laboratory animals, plus additional information on the issue of pain and distress.

The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experimentation (FRAME) web site offers a set of links to web sites that argue against animal testing and those that argue in favor of it. Bear in mind that different sites will reflect the varying viewpoints of their respective organizations, and any one site may only give you part of the picture.

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Q: What are some arguments in favor of testing on animals?

A: Here again, you can argue in terms of morality, necessity, and validity. The moral issue on this side concerns the need to protect human life and to improve the quality of life. The gains in human health and well-being outweigh the cost in animal suffering (which nonetheless should be kept to a minimum), in this viewpoint. It would be immoral to conduct such tests on humans, and so animals serve as our stand-ins for many kinds of testing and research. Those who support animal testing may care deeply about animals but don't place them on an equal status with humans.

Research on animals may be deemed necessary for a variety of reasons: to develop vaccines and treatments and cures for diseases; to ensure that new products are safe to use--that they won't blind us, burn our skin, or even kill us (which did happen in several instances, before product safety testing was required by law); and to help students--especially prospective doctors, veterinarians, and so on--learn their way around a body.

Animals do make good research subjects for many purposes, this view argues, and research on them can tell us a great deal about ourselves. Animals are, in many ways, biologically similar to humans and are susceptible to many of the same health problems. Some species may serve as particularly good models for certain aspects of human health or physiology. Much of what we know about the immune system, for example, has come from studies with mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs. Many heart surgery techniques--such as coronary bypass surgery, artificial heart valve insertion, and pacemaker implants--were studied first in dogs before being used in people.

Animals may make even better research subjects than humans in some regards. For example, many species have relatively short life cycles, so they can be studied throughout their entire life span or across several generations. Furthermore, scientists can control certain aspects of an animal's environment--diet, temperature, lighting, and so on--more easily than would be possible with people.

Supporters of the use of animals in research argue that alternative methods can't fully replace the use of animals--and may never do so. Neither cells grown outside a body nor computer programs can predict the complex interactions that occur in an entire living system.

At Altweb, we don't argue either for or against animal testing per se; rather, we argue in favor of the development and use of alternative methods. We work to replace animals tests with non-animal methods whenever possible, to reduce the number of animals used, and to refine test methods to minimize or eliminate pain and distress for the animals. Our web site exists to speed the development and use of new alternative methods by providing a clearinghouse of information and resources to scientists, industry, and the public.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) web site presents a very positive view of animal testing. See their "Educational Resources" page.

The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experimentation (FRAME) web site offers a set of links to web sites that argue against animal testing and others that argue in favor of it. Bear in mind that different sites will reflect the varying viewpoints of their respective organizations, and any one site may only give you part of the picture.

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Q: What are the benefits to people from animal testing? What discoveries have been made using animals?

A: Countless medical treatments, techniques, and technologies have come about, at least in part, through animal experimentation. The development of immunization against such diseases as polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, rubella, pertussis, and hepatitis all involved research on animals, as did the discovery of insulin and the study of diabetes. Animal research also has played a part in the development of organ transplantation, hip replacement, chemotherapy, cardiac pacemakers, coronary bypass surgery, ongoing efforts to understand and treat AIDS and Alzheimer's disease, and more.

Not everyone agrees, however, on the extent to which animal research was essential to all these discoveries, nor the extent to which is it necessary for future medical progress. The American Anti-Vivisectionist Society, for example, contends that "results derived from animal experiments have had a very minimal effect on the dramatic rise in life expectancy in the 20th century."

The organizations represented by Altweb, while accepting the value of animal research, work to promote the development and use of alternative methods whenever possible.

The Kids-4-Research site, especially the sections on "Diseases" and on "Animals," describes a variety of biomedical achievements involving animal research.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research site gives a very positive view of the role of animal testing in biomedical research. Look for the "Animal Research Facts" section.

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Q: Are there any benefits to animals?

A: Animal research has played a role in many advances in veterinary medicine, including the development of vaccines for rabies, parvovirus, and distemper. Various devices and treatments developed through animal research--such as pacemakers, hip replacement, diabetes treatments, dental care, and chemotherapy--are used in veterinary as well as human medicine. Some animal research is aimed at developing alternatives to animal use, so that fewer animals will be needed in the future.

Not all research is conducted on laboratory animals. Pet owners looking for the best or newest treatment for their ailing dog or cat may agree to take part in a clinical study--similar to the human clinical trials that test the effectiveness of different drugs or treatment methods on people with pre-existing conditions or diseases.

Research on such matters as nutrition, housing requirements, or social behavior can help improve living conditions for captive and domestic animals. Some kinds of animal research may contribute to habitat restoration and conservation efforts for wild animals.

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Q: Is there a list of companies that don't test on animals? What about a list of those that do?

A: We do not maintain such a list ourselves, nor can we verify the accuracy of the lists that are available. Please be aware that the various lists given below may use different criteria for which companies they include.

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) offers a list of companies that have adopted a "Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals," agreeing not to test on animals during any stage of product development. This "shopping guide" is available online. Or, they will mail you a free wallet-sized copy of the guide.

The National Anti-Vivisectionist Society offers a book for sale ($9.50) called "Personal Care for People Who Care." It briefly discusses some of the tests used and some of the alternatives, and it provides different symbols to indicate whether a given company does no animal testing whatsoever, versus one that may buy ingredients tested on animals and so forth. You can reach them by calling 1-800-888-NAVS or by writing to NAVS, 53 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552, Chicago, IL 60604.

The American Anti-Vivisectionist Society (AAVS) offers a free "Guide to Compassionate Shopping," which you can order online. Or you can write to them at 801 Old York Rd. #204, Jenkintown, PA 19046, call (215) 887-0816, or fax (215) 887-2008.

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Q: What does "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals" really mean?

A: It can mean different things to different companies. Many cosmetics companies now advertise their products as "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals." The U.S. government doesn't regulate the use of these terms, however, so the labels don't always mean the same thing. For example, "not tested on animals" may mean that the company attempts to determine the safety of finished products, made from ingredients known to be safe, using in vitro and other alternatives, including the use of human volunteers. Or, it may mean that the company doesn't test on animals itself but may buy ingredients from companies that do. Or it doesn't test final products on animals but does test ingredients on animals. Or it doesn't manufacture or buy any products or ingredients that have been tested on animals beyond a fixed cutoff date. Or the product and/or its ingredients have not been animal-tested within the past five years.

Be aware, too, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires animal testing for pharmaceuticals and certain other products. This is not the case for cosmetics and toiletries, however. These items have to be tested to ensure customer safety, but they don't necessarily have to be tested on animals. This is where you'll see the words "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals" on a product label.

For a good discussion of cruelty-free labeling, go to the Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare website.

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Q: How can I be sure my cosmetics are safe, if they haven't been tested on animals?

A: New products still must undergo rigorous safety testing--whether they are tested on animals or not. These days, a cosmetics manufacturer may rely on some combination of computer modeling, in vitro tests, and trials with human volunteers, instead of on animal tests. The bottom line, however, is that all ingredients used in making cosmetics either have been tested on animals at some point or are known to be safe based on decades of use.

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Q: Why do most large companies test their products on animals while many smaller companies can produce high-quality products without animal testing?

A: By law, all manufacturers must generate data proving their products are safe. This is easier to do if a company is small and makes a limited range of products using ingredients already known to be safe. Larger companies, which often create ingredients as well as final products, face a more difficult problem: they must ensure that new, previously untested ingredients are safe. Even in these cases, the company generally will conduct a series of non-animal tests before testing the new ingredient on animals. In this way, they often can reduce the number animals needed and cause less pain or suffering the animals that are tested on.

In some cases, companies that advertise themselves as "cruelty-free" actually purchase animal-tested ingredients from large companies to use in their "not tested on animals" products.

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Q: What kinds of tests are done?

A: For product safety purposes, there are two basic types of tests used to assess the risks of routine or accidental exposure to various products. Acute-toxicity tests evaluate the risk of short-term exposure through normal use, accidental contact with the eyes or skin, and accidental ingestion. Chronic-toxicity tests assess the effects of long-term exposure--often at low levels--to certain substances. Here, researchers are looking at such things as the potential to cause cancer, birth defects, and developmental abnormalities.

The two tests that probably have caused the most public outcry are both examples of acute-toxicity tests. The Draize eye irritancy test uses rabbits to estimate the ability of a test substance to irritate or damage the eye. This involves putting the test substance into one of the rabbit's eyes and then scoring changes in various parts of the eye as compared to the untreated eye over a 7-day period.

This test was the subject of a major protest campaign in 1980, which ultimately led to substantial changes in the cosmetics industry and to greatly increased efforts toward the development of non-animal alternatives. Many companies no longer use the Draize test at all, though non-animal methods have not yet replaced it altogether. Where it is still used, the number of rabbits has been reduced dramatically, and the techniques have been refined considerably, using much lower dosages of the test chemicals and providing an anesthetic to ease the pain.

The other acute-toxicity test that has gotten a lot of publicity is called the LD50 test. LD50 means "lethal dose 50 percent." This test estimates the dosage of a substance needed to kill 50% of a group of rats or other test animals. In this test, groups of animals are given doses of particular chemical agent, such as a household product, to find out the amount needed to kill half of the animal subjects. The classic LD50 test has been banned in parts of Europe, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it no longer supports use of this test. Alternative methods still involve animals, but the numbers have been reduced and the techniques refined.

The Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare site offers a section on product safety testing, including a discussion of tests used. This site takes an alternatives approach to the issues.

The Kids-4-Research site also has sections on product safety testing, including brief descriptions of some of the tests used. As its name suggests, this site is pro-research.

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Q: What products are tested?

A: Most products manufactured for human use must be tested for safety before they can be sold to the public. This includes drugs and vaccines (for both people and animals), cosmetics, shampoo and other personal care products, food additives, food packaging, household cleaners, pesticides, industrial chemicals, fabric treatments, and more.

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Q: What kinds of animals are used in testing?

A: Rats and mice make up the vast majority (probably 85-90%) of animals used in research, education, and testing. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, dogs, cats, non-human primates, and assorted other animals are studied as well. Dogs, cats, and primates together comprise about 1% of research animals. The particular kind of animal varies with the kind of testing being done.

The Kids 4 Research web site has a section about the animals used for various kinds of research. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) site offers some figures on the numbers and kinds of animals used.

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Q: Where do scientists get their laboratory animals?

A: The vast majority of laboratory animals are mice and rats that were bred specifically for research. Nearly half of the dogs and cats used in research were bred for that purpose as well. Animal dealers are the primary source for the rest. They must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must adhere to Animal Welfare Act standards of care. Some research facilities do get dog and cats from shelters and pounds, but this is subject to much stricter regulation than it once was. In many cases, state laws and local policies prevent this.

For a Humane Society (HSUS) statement against using animals from the pound for research purposes, go here.

For the Foundation for Biomedical Research view of the pet theft issue, go here.

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Q: Has anyone stopped using animals?

A: The cosmetics industry, which 20 years ago tested nearly all its products on animals, has come close. Many companies have reduced their use of whole-animal testing by as much as 80 or 90%. Some have eliminated it altogether. One estimate suggests that the U.S. cosmetics industry as a whole has cut their use of animals for eye irritation tests by 87%. Eye irritation tests on rabbits were the subject of the first successful protest against animal testing back in 1980. Since that time, many cosmetics companies have put considerable money and effort into the search for alternatives to animal testing--which is part of why their animal use has dropped so dramatically. (The other part is that most ingredients used in cosmetics have already been tested on animal or shown to be safe through years of use.)

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Q: What can I do to help?

A: One of the most important ways you can help is to learn as much as you can about alternatives to animal testing and then share that information with other people. The more people know about alternatives, the better. Be sure to tell them about all 3 Rs--reduction and refinement, as well as replacement.

If you're a student, write a report or give a talk at school. Suggest alternatives, where possible, if the question of dissection or animal experiments comes up in biology class, in science fairs or science projects. (See the FAQ about alternatives to dissection for more information on this issue.) It isn't enough just to protest against abuses of animals. We also need to raise a new generation of scientists who truly understand and care about these matters, and who will work to develop and use alternatives to animal testing. You can help make that happen.

You also can write, e-mail, or call your elected officials, federal and state regulatory agencies, and industry representatives and tell them we need to develop more alternative tests, we need to get those alternative methods that already exist scientifically validated, and we need to encourage government regulatory agencies to accept new alternatives methods so companies can start using them. Even if you're not yet of voting age, your voice can make a difference.

As you may be aware, you also can make a difference by choosing to support those companies that support alternatives to animal testing. Be aware, though, that this isn't a simple matter of looking for the words "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals" on a product label. Please see the "cruelty-free labeling" FAQ for more information on this issue here.

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Q: Will you add me to your mailing list?

A: Gladly. To receive monthly e-mail updates, just send an e-mail to altweb@jhsph.edu with your name and the e-mail address you want the updates sent to.

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Q: Can you send me pictures of laboratory animals?

A: As a firm and general policy we do not send pictures. Other organizations may be able to help you find the photographs you need.

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Q: Where can I find information about research grants?

A: Altweb offers a directory of funding sources for alternatives research (undergoing renovation; temporarily unavailable). You also can check Grants Net. You will need to register with them, but it is a free service.

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