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GOP Activist Faces Dilemma on Animal Tests

October 12, 1989|JOANNA MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Oxnard woman who helped organize an animal rights demonstration at the Procter & Gamble Co. plant this week finds herself in a politically touchy position today.

As newly installed president of Oxnard Republican Women, Beverly McGrath says she will be in charge of a campaign to reelect Assemblyman Tom McClintock, the Thousand Oaks Republican who supports animal testing and opposes an Assembly bill that bans the use of animals for cosmetic and household product testing.

That is a bill that McGrath, who was installed Wednesday as head of the local women Republicans, helped write.

"It's a real dilemma," said McGrath, an activist, actress and singer, mother of four and wife of Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath. She says she has not decided how to handle the situation: McClintock "has put me in a very awkward position."

Beverly McGrath and Dorothy Done, who co-authored what is now Assembly Bill 2461 and helped organize Tuesday's demonstration, saw more than 50 protesters arrive at Procter & Gamble's Oxnard plant.

McGrath and Done, also of Oxnard, first took the bill to McClintock's office, where they were put off. McGrath then took the bill to Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria). The bill, which does not prohibit the use of animals for medical research or drug testing, is on the Assembly floor.

"For even a different shade of mascara, there is a whole battery of tests done," O'Connell said. For cosmetics and Procter & Gamble's household products such as Comet, Oil of Olay, Tide and Cascade, O'Connell and animal rights advocates believe that alternative testing methods should be used.

The protest at the Oxnard plant, where only paper goods and orange juice are produced, was one of 13 such demonstrations planned at company plants around the country.

Oxnard's protest may have been among the largest, Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Linda Ulrey said. Ulrey said McGrath and other protesters had targeted the wrong company.

"We are surprised that these groups are here," the company said in a prepared statement released in Oxnard.

"Procter & Gamble has already achieved a very significant 80% reduction in animal use for personal care and household product safety testing over the past five years."

Ninety percent of testing on animals is done in the company's food and drug products, and only because it is required by law and necessary to ensure product safety and reliability, Ulrey said.

"Olestra, for instance, is an entirely new fat substitute that we would be introducing into the diet," she said. "Instead of using shortening for fries or cookies, you would use Olestra. This one absolutely must have animal testing."

The federal Food and Drug Administration, however, does not explicitly require testing on animals for any kind of product, said Mike Shaffer, an agency spokesman in Washington.

"But the regulations rely on what has come to be generally recognized scientific principles to determine safety, and that method is using animals," Shaffer said. Although he said the FDA condones and encourages non-animal tests, the safety and reliability must be proved first.

"Unfortunately, we are not that far along yet," he said.

McGrath and other animal rights activists dispute that animal testing assures safety.

"The public is misled into thinking that products are safe because they are tested on animals," McGrath said. "Certainly people will agree that many of the products under your sink are not necessarily safe for humans."

As one alternative, McGrath suggests a system that uses chemical components to test products and predict their toxicity to humans. She said the system is used by Johnson & Johnson, Dial and Avon products.

One protester at Tuesday's rally, Gary Branch of Santa Barbara, said he works for McGhan Nusil, a firm that uses another testing method. He said it uses human lung tissue spread over a plate to determine toxicity.

"If there are any reactions, the cells show it," said Branch, a process technician.

McGrath alleged that corporations continue to use animals in product testing to avoid litigation.

"It has kept them out of court, and they want to stay out of court," she said.

For household and cosmetic products, O'Connell agreed.

"They believe it protects them from liability," O'Connell said. He believes that there is progress in the field, but the road ahead will be rough.

"We are trying to get corporate America to change the way it does business, and corporate America moves very slowly."

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