Spokesperson Hilary Green told us Nestlé only used animals in tests on medical foods or when new ingredients required safety data for regulatory approval.
“We do not sell functional or superfoods anyway but our use of animals has nothing to do with trying to impress the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or winning health claims as the report suggests,” Green said.
“We use animals as part of our medical food research programme which comes to a handful of studies each year compared to more than 100 clinical studies involving humans.”
The allegations were made today by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) which said the public would be shocked by the animal testing practices of big food companies with Nestlé, Danone, Unilever and Yakult in the firing line.
Practices included starving rats and killing mice foetuses to test the efficacy of various ingredients.
BUAV head of science Dr Katy Taylor told NutraIngredients much of the testing was unnecessary as human data already existed for the indications in question or could be gathered.
“The motivation to do this for most companies is financial – it is cheaper and less hassle to conduct animal trials,” Dr Taylor said.
She refuted Nestlé’s assertion that animal testing was only conducted for medical foods.
“There is a thin line between medical and regular foods anyway – Nestlé was testing goji berries – that is a regular food isn’t it?” she wondered.
“While we are opposed to all animal testing, there may be cases where genuinely novel nutraceuticals are being tested for safety that the public might find more justifiable, but most of the testing we have uncovered does not fit that description. It is not genuine medical research.”
Dr Taylor said its report was only a snapshot of animal testing activity in the food sector that was dwarfed in testing by others. “There are a lot of failed studies that never see the light of day. But food industry testing is a small sector of testing and not on the same scale as pharma or university.”
Animal v human data
While BUAV linked the animal testing to health claims, motivation to perform such kinds of research is not supported by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guidance, which states a clear preference for human data over animal data.
“While studies in animals or in vitro may provide supportive evidence (e.g. in support of a mechanism), human data are central for the substantiation of the claim,” it states.
Unilever said the animal trials BUAV cited were carried out several years ago, before it changed its policies two years ago to forbid animal testing on its tea products except for when regulations required it.
“Unilever remains committed to its ambition of eliminating animal testing by investing in alternative methods,” the company said.
“Where legal or regulatory requirements call for testing on animals to demonstrate the safety of Unilever’s tea-based beverages or ingredients, Unilever seeks to minimise the testing required and the number of animals involved, and the testing is provided by third parties.”
Similarly Nestlé states: “The development of conventional food and drink products, such as coffee, tea, cereal and chocolate, does not involve animal tests.”
Animal testing practices highlighted by BUAV:
- Pregnant rabbits and mice were force fed hoodia extracts throughout their pregnancy for 25 days. The day before the animals were due to give birth, they and their unborn foetuses were killed and examined. (Unilever)
- Rats were starved for 20 hours and then force-fed a single dose of probiotic bacteria, through a stainless steel tube inserted down their throats into their stomachs. Two hours later, their stomachs were damaged when they were force fed a solution containing hydrochloric acid. The animals were left to suffer for one hour before they were killed so that their stomachs could be dissected and examined. (Yakult)
- Mice were fed a goji preparation. After seven days of feeding, the mice were given an injection of a chemical irritant directly into their rectums to cause colon disease. Due to the resulting abdominal pain, the mice stopped eating and had to be force-fed the goji preparation for the next five days. The animals were then killed and their colons dissected. (Nestlé)
- Three-month old mice genetically modified to develop certain characteristics of Alzheimer’s, were fed a drink for three months. Some of the mice died for unknown reasons during the experiment. At the end of the study, the animals were killed and their brains dissected and analysed for signs of improvement. (Danone)