Is it vegan to consume medicine if we know that it all must be animal tested before human consumption? Are vegans hypocritical for being against animal testing while taking pills that were tested on animals? Let’s explore this idea and clarify some concepts.
What is veganism?
Veganism is not about removing every single possible interaction with animal products in your life. The Vegan Society defines veganism as a lifestyle based on practicability:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
–The Vegan Society
Most of us would agree that it’s not practicable and possible to get sick or die because we avoid taking medication we need. It is the law in the United States, Europe, and most developed countries that all medicine must be tested on animals before proceeding with human trials. A vegan cannot practically avoid taking medicine since there aren’t any non-tested options. In contrast, when eating animal products for pleasure and convenience, there are many alternatives readily available at the supermarket. We’re not putting our health at risk when we decide to avoid animal products.
The question might then be: if we can’t be 100% consistent with veganism, why bother at all? The answer is that there is a huge difference between being vegan 99% of the time, avoiding harm to animals as far as we personally can, and not even trying at all. The positive effects on animal suffering and the environment are significant, and the less meat we eat, the better the impact we have.
Medicine supply and demand
When we take medicine, we’re not directly contributing to the use of animals for drug testing. Each new medicine is tested for a fixed period of time before proceeding to human experiments, and then never again. So almost every time we buy a pill from the pharmacy, we’re buying a product that wasn’t actually tested on animals. However, each time we buy animal products, it’s certain that an animal had to suffer for that particular purchase.
(On a side note, it’s worth noting that this argument doesn’t apply to vegan cosmetics and toiletries. This is because, even though not every single one of them was tested on animals, there are other options available. This thought is simply trying to quantify the comparatively small damage of using medicine, given that we cannot avoid it.)
The more meat, dairy and eggs we consume, the more animals have to be bred and killed to meet that demand. It’s a proportional relationship. But an increased demand for pharmaceuticals doesn’t lead to an increase in animal drug trials. We cannot and should not equate the two, and instead focus on doing our best to reduce animal suffering wherever we can.