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Community: Forum: Vegetarian Discussion

Vegan / Vegetarian Discussion - All Things Veg*n Forum

Hi all,

right off the bat I'll get it out of the way: I'm not a vegetarian. I'm interested by philosophy and am inquisitive about...well, just about everything. :) I've posted this same topic on two different vegan/vegetarian forums so far today and been banned from both. At no point was I argumentative or insulting, I was banned simply for not being a vegetarian. If this is a forum exclusively for vegetarians and not for the discussion [i]of[/i] vegetarianism, please let me know and I'll move on.

Right, now that that's out of the way, here's my question:

It's my understanding that the capsules used to administer medicines can only be made using gelatin produced from animals. There are tablets or liquid suspension alternatives for some, but not all medicines.

Would strict vegans refuse to eat such capsules? (A more philosophical question to move onto is: would you risk your health/life to avoid consuming an animal product?)

Do most vegetarians know about this? The few I've met in real life had no idea.

If you did know about this, have you asked your doctor for an alternative? What did they say? Some doctors don't seem to read up on this sort of thing and will simply tell you that there is no alternative. Some seem to offer alternatives, but only for specific medicines. Perhaps there's some chemical reasons that certain medicines require the use of a gelatin capsule.

All replies and comments are welcome. :)

~O

Responses (6)

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by shearwater at 10/27/09 07:44:13

    I'm glad when non vegans/vegetarians question cruelty issues. So welcome to Happy Cow.

    I am a vegan in part because it is consuming animal products that is risking health and life, not the other way around. As to medications, living a healthy vegan lifestyle helps reduce the need. But when I do need a pill I have always been able to find a non-gelatin alternative. But the fact is, unfortunately, that all US medicines and medical procedures are tested on animals.

    I view being vegan, or vegetarian, as a journey towards the ideal. (I'm sorry some over-zealous veggies kicked you off their sites instead of helping you and themselves, since being veggie means constantly learning while helping others along the way.)

    Besides eating an animal-free diet we no longer buy leather, fur or wool. We try to buy only products which don't contain, or haven't been tested on, animals. But it's impossible to live totally cruelty-free. So we need to keep working to make all our products cruelty-free instead of, as some critics do, using it as an excuse to rationalize continued cruelty where compassionate choices exist.

    How many vegans own cell phones? (I don't) Cell phones kill songbirds by the tens of thousands as well as endangered African wildlife. Our refrigerators are meat-free but some of the plastic containers in the freezer may contain animal fats. Animal fats are still used to manufacture some plastics (including some food containers), drywall in our homes, and many other everyday products.

    Because of our activism and buying power cruelty-free alternatives are becoming more available - clothing, candles, cosmetics, even baseball mitts. Don't do without needed medical care. But also don't stop looking for less cruel alternatives. We do what we can! What we can't we try to make better. There are always alternatives, just sometimes we have to work for them.

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by Omnivore at 10/28/09 05:09:09

    Thanks for the reply. :)

    The issue of animal testing and medical products is an interesting one. I can't speak for the US, but here in the UK we have a policy of 'reduction, replacement and refinement'. Perhaps due to the love for animals in our culture and the strong animal rights movement we have one of the strictest set of rules and a good track record, though a lot of research goes on here and so a lot of animal testing does.

    I doubt if most people, even the strictest vegans, would like to live in a world where no animal testing of medications takes place. One of the biggest positive changes to society in the last 1-2 centuries has been the reduction of communicative disease and the lowering of the infant mortality rate. It may be possible for individuals to live a healthy life without these medications, but if we all did then the world would be a very different place.

    So, if we accept that we need the medications, what are the alternatives to testing on animals? All medicines require a human test at some point ofcourse, and sometimes this can go horribly wrong, even if previous tests on animals have taken place, so simply testing everything on humans would have dire consequences. Some tests can be carried out on cloned cells or continuously grown segments of skin, which is one option for 'replacement' that I find interesting, though it has limited results. The ultimate test is to put a chemical into a fully functioning biological system.

    One reply that comes up occasionally is that "We already have those medicines, so why do we keep on researching new ones? Why can't we be happy with the world we've got now?" or something along those lines. I don't find that convincing as medicine is an ongoing battle against several changing enemies. We can't just stop and maintain our current quality of living.

    So I'm philosophically stuck. I love animals and believe that we need to conserve the rare species and avoid man-kind from causing any further extinctions. Exploiting other animals is a part of nature (something like 90% of all living creatures die by being eaten by something else) but that doesn't make it morally acceptable. And from a more selfish viewpoint I wouldn't realistically want to live in a world without medical advances.

    As a little aside to this discussion: would you be less bothered about animal testing/extortion if we weren't using mammals? Are tests on fruit-flies equally abhorrent to those on guinneapigs?

    All replies welcome. :)

    ~O

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by shearwater at 10/28/09 08:03:04

    As a vegan I do hope to live in a world where no animals are tested on, even for medicines. It's not a matter of living without new medications or progress, it's how we proceed.

    Although animal testing is still required by law in the US for medicines (it's big business here and why animal testing is so vigorously defended) it's proving to be inferior to some of the other methods available. I won't go into details as we're now getting into complicated science deserving more space than a forum post. Perhaps you could do a google search - and check out American Anti-Vivisection Society (www.aavs.org).

    There is actually plenty of evidence that animal testing has made us less safe and slowed progress. Yes, some animal testing has led to positive results but only because other methods weren't used. An act of violence may result in a good outcome, it doesn't mean violence is the way to do good.

    Animal testing is not a good indicator as to how a substance will affect humans. For instance an aspirin given to a rat and to a mouse will cure one of a headache and kill the other. Sheep enjoy arsenic. Strychnine is safe for monkeys. Dog testing "proves" smoking does NOT cause cancer.

    Nine out of ten drugs that pass the animal testing stage fail when tested on humans. In the US many drugs approved for public use are withdrawn soon after, often with huge lawsuits following, because of the damaging and sometimes lethal side effects. Every one of them had been tested on animals and "proved" safe. Many non-drug companies (ie cosmetics, shampoos, etc.) which aren't required to test on animals already use alternatives.

    As to your philosophical questions - Animal testing on non-mammals would bother me too, and be even more ineffective. Animals that eat other animals do so for their survival. Humans don't live in that kill or be killed world. As much respect as I have for animals I recognize that humans have more choices, technical abilities, and moral and ethical standards beyond what animals do (though many humans exhibit less intelligence and more cruelty than animals). So I'm not going to pass moral judgment on a dolphin for killing a fish.

    When you say "from a more selfish viewpoint I wouldn't realistically want to live in a world without medical advances" let me pose a philosophical question back. Suppose the only way to achieve those continued medical advances was to test on unwilling humans. From that more selfish viewpoint would you approve of using prisoners? slaves? the poor? the sick and dying? people snatched from the street?

    Please keep asking questions. That's how I went from a typical American diet to a vegetarian diet (23 years ago) to a vegan diet (10 years ago). I'm still improving my diet, learning about animal issues, and am healthier than ever.


  • Report Abuse

    Posted by Omnivore at 10/28/09 10:15:10

    Please do go into details. I'm a scientist as well as a philosopher and I'm interested to hear about any methods that are superior to animal testing.

    How has animal testing made us less safe or slowed progress?

    It's true that different chemicals affect different organisms in different ways. What's safe for a specific species of animal may not be safe for humans; and that's why there have been a few disastrous human trials. But that doesn't mean that animal testing isn't a good indicator. If you find that a chemical affects a particular organ in one species, it's reasonable to conclude that it may have an affect on that organ in humans, so research can then continue in that area. In a research cycle there will always be the significant event: when the chemical is first tested on a living organism. That might be a human, a rat, or a fly. I'd probably work my way upwards from the fly, to ensure safety. Testing on humans first would have a great cost to those poor enough to want to enter dangerous trials.

    Unfortunately, I think that humans do still live in a 'kill or be killed' world in relation to animals, it just isn't as present in our minds. Rather than moving through the forests, hunting, we've paved over the habitats of the animals with huge cities. There's very little that we do to advance ourselves that doesn't in some way damage other life forms. Unless you live in a commune of eco-warriors. But even then you'd eat living things and farm land that would otherwise be forests or marshes.
    One thing that gets on my nerves are people who look down their noses, disgusted at me whilst I'm stuffing or de-boneing a chicken, but they'll quite happily eat the chicken afterwards. If they don't see anything that reminds them of an animal, but instead just see 'meat', then they're not accepting moral responsibility for their lives. You could draw similar comparisons with people's every day lives replacing a natural habitat.

    If there were some disease threatening mankind that could only be cured by research on humans, then no, I wouldn't approve of using people against their will. If it was a real threat and the only way, then I would volunteer myself. And we'd have to hope that enough others also volunteered. But this moral issue does remind me of the early immunisation programmes. The jabs had been thoroughly tested, but I suppose that widespread administration is still a 'test'. You never know when some portion of the population with genetic differences will have an adverse reaction until you've tested the whole population. Those programmes were forced on people who were distrustful and afraid, because immunisation is only truly effective at stopping epidemics when more than 70% of the population are immunisted. It's actually quite a fascist approach, but it's better than widespread disease.

    OK, I'm going to end this post before it transforms into a full essay!

    ~O

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by shearwater at 10/28/09 15:16:22

    I am not a scientist. Any details or explanations I could provide would not do this complicated issue justice, particularly to someone who is more scientifically minded. That's why I referred you to more qualified sources. (AAVS has a long list of alternative testing methods with explanations.) But I have familiarized myself with this issue enough to confidently say I oppose animal testing as cruel and unnecessary.

    Animal testing has slowed progress and made us less safe because society has relied so heavily on these to the exclusion of other methods. Who knows what advances science could have made had labs been more open minded. And as I said, animal testing was passing on to humans drugs that were unsafe.

    I'll repeat an example I used above. For decades tobacco companies used the results of dog tests to reassure the public and government regulators that cigarettes don't cause cancer. How many lives could have been saved if current anti-smoking programs and laws protecting us from secondhand smoke had begun decades earlier?

    Yes humans live in a kill or be killed world - sort of. In my first post I even said something to that effect. What I meant (and probably should have stated clearer) was humans are unique in that we have the ability to find and choose alternatives to the kill or be killed world. That our veggies are grown in what was once wildlife habitat is no excuse for killing animals, especially where alternatives exist.

    I eat no animals, wear no animals, buy mostly products not tested on animals. I live as lightly as I can on the earth (I was an "eco-warrior" long before going veggie). I use considerably less energy, water, and other resources than just about everyone I know. I walk a lot. I speak out for wildlife and the environment. Imagine if society as a whole adopted eco-vegan attitudes. That most humans choose to continue living a kill or be killed existence doesn't mean they have to.

    Meat eaters kill more plants (living things as you put it) and farm more land because most crops are fed to animals destined to become meat instead of to people. The meat industry creates more global warming gases than all the world's transportation, is one of the leading causes of ocean pollution, and the leading cause of depletion of ocean life and tropical deforestation. I could go on.

    You choose to de-bone a chicken when you don't need to, when you know it causes suffering, when you know it contributes more to environmental degradation than if you chose a plant based diet. (I also find it disgusting when people look down their noses at animal killing but then eat meat. It's almost as disgusting as when people de-bone chickens.)

    Vivisectionists in the early 20th century defended their experiments by claiming dogs were nothing more than "living machines" incapable of feeling pain or fear. We know that is not true. Most animal testing is not about saving lives but for a new cosmetic or shampoo. Most tests are redundant. A conservative estimate of the number of animals used against their will for testing/torture every year in the US is 100 million.

    You ask thoughtful questions, the kind many of us once faced. I hope you will look for answers beyond what a forum can provide. But feel free to continue asking. I look forward to discussions like this.

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by webmaster at 10/29/09 10:40:31

    Hi O & SW,

    Thanks Shearwater for your thoughtful responses which really gets to the deeper points behind the question.
    O- Regarding your original question on gelatin capsules, your point "capsules used to administer medicines can only be made using gelatin produced from animals" is not true, as far as I know. "Vegicaps" are becoming more common, and as there are new techniques of making them they are becoming more shelf stable, and gaining acceptance.
    A main reason why gelatin is used is because of tradition/cost, and since most medicines are packaged using them, the cost is much lower than vegicaps. Similar to the organic issue, as soon as there is more demand for vegicaps, the price will come down.
    Lastly, a concerned vegan can purchase empty vegi-capules and repackage medicine, although harm was already done since the gelatin capsules are then discarded.
    I think for most vegans, if their life depended on taking medicine in gelatin capsules they would just pop the pill, but for everyday use there are choices.

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