Dr Julia BainesA mum-of-two and PETA science policy manager, Dr Julia Baines is one of the strong, smart, and strategic female animal advocates who make up 74% of PETA’s workforce.

Currently, Dr Baines’ biggest passion is ensuring that no animal suffers for the production of cosmetics, as animal testing of certain ingredients is still permitted in the EU and further afield.

She is an expert in the legal and ethical use of animals and represents PETA Science Consortium International e.V. in the European Parliament and at high-level EU meetings. Her work has saved thousands of animals, preventing pregnant rabbits and rats and their babies from being force-fed cosmetics ingredients. In 2021, she provided crucial evidence to stop two toxic tests on more than 500 rats and fish. Another major challenge Dr Baines confronts in her work is dealing with whistleblower cases, such as this one, in which live rats used in a Scottish laboratory were thrown into a rubbish compressor.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

I’m Julia Baines, science policy manager at the charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As an academic, my research on animal welfare and behaviour took me inside many laboratories, where I witnessed the dreadful suffering of animals used for experiments. I’m still haunted by what I saw. These horrors led me to work for PETA and dedicate my life to helping animals.

At PETA, I’m focusing on three main goals. First, to work towards ending laboratory experiments on animals, as detailed in PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal. I work with government officials and policy advisors to promote a strategy for freeing up funds for innovative, non-animal methods – such as organs-on-a-chip and complex computer models – ending the use of animals in research areas in which they have been shown to be poor surrogates for humans, and applying a robust system for ensuring the most up-to-date, human-relevant methods are used.

My second goal is to stop EU authorities from requiring that cosmetics ingredients be tested on animals. Yes, that’s still happening, as the European Chemicals Agency demands excessive testing for ingredients, including tests on pregnant rabbits and other animals. You can learn more and help end these abhorrent tests here.

Third, I work to end the cruel forced swim test from being carried out on rats at the University of Bristol. This vile test forces rats to swim in inescapable beakers of water so that experimenters can identify new antidepressants. However, the applicability of an animal’s behaviour to human depression or to the utility of a compound for treating human depression has been substantially refuted. Companies including Pfizer, Bayer, and GlaxoSmithKline have stopped using the test. You can add your support for a ban here.

Depression and other mental-health conditions are some of the most common and debilitating conditions in the world, making it vital that scientific research achieve translatable results that are relevant for human clinical practice. Likewise, rather than forcing animals to ingest or inhale chemicals, it is essential that a more sophisticated approach to toxicity testing be used – one that will provide adequate information for the protection of human health and the environment. To achieve this, I attend a lot of high-level EU meetings with lawyers, toxicologists, and policy specialists, and I’m always inspired to see a lot of chairwomen and female experts.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always been interested in animals, so studying their welfare and behaviour for my PhD came naturally. But nothing prepared me for what I witnessed in the laboratories, and that’s what put me on the path to where I am today. It was eight years ago, while working as a lecturer in higher education, that I saw the job advert for a science policy advisor at PETA. My experience, knowledge, skills, and deep desire to get animals out of laboratories made the role a perfect fit, so I applied. It’s the best career move I’ve ever made.

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Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Seeing animals suffering in labs was extremely tough, but it did lead to my decision to dedicate my life to helping them. Whistle-blower cases, in which I investigate and document atrocities reported to us, can be very emotionally demanding. For example, in 2019, we were told that Charles River Laboratories near Edinburgh had crushed live rats to death in a rubbish compressor. Some rats were given doses of chemicals so high that one distressed female gnawed off part of her front foot. Following our detailed complaint, the Home Office imposed sanctions on the laboratory, so our hard work was worth it, and we continue to investigate any abuse that we’re made aware of. It’s frustrating to know that animals are still being used in pointless, unnecessary experiments, often out of habit, when our Research Modernisation Deal can help institutions transition to animal-free science and is available to all, free of charge. Ultimately, animal experiments will be replaced, and the sooner, the better, so organisations should act now.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2017, through the PETA International Science Consortium Ltd, we helped cancel a testing requirement demanding that BASF Personal Care and Nutrition force-feed high concentrations of a cosmetics ingredient to pregnant rats or rabbits. I spoke in support of the animals at the appeal hearing, arguing that the European Chemicals Agency’s request for the test was neither ethical nor robust. Last year, we also stopped unnecessary experiments on more than 500 animals, which would have involved force-feeding a chemical used in washing and cleaning products to rats for 28 days before dissecting them and pumping it into the water of tanks containing fish embryos as they grew and developed. The fight against other cosmetics experiments continues, and anyone wanting to ensure they buy cruelty-free products should check the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies database, which lists companies that do not test on animals for any reason.

What keeps you awake at night right now?

The “Frankenscience” currently going on in the US, in which a pig heart has been transplanted into a human. Animals are not warehouses of spare parts for humans to raid, and changing US law to presume consent for human organ donation (as is the case in the UK) would make many more organs available. Using other animals’ organs is not only ethically wrong but also a huge waste of resources that could be better used to advance animal-free, human-relevant research.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My education and skills have given me a good foundation, but ultimately, the one thing that keeps me working late at night or over the weekends is my passion for the cause. I fully believe in the values of PETA and standing up for animals who are not able to protect themselves.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Apply your skills to developing and using non-animal methods! Look for training opportunities with scientists who are proficient in the use of in vitro and in silico methods, attend conferences and workshops that focus on innovative technology without the use of animals, and apply for funding opportunities in these fields.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Check out the PETA Science Consortium International website – the Consortium and its members offer travel awards to researchers seeking to contribute to the development and use of animal-free test methods, organise webinars focused on the use of non-animal methods to meet regulatory requirements, and produce factsheets on such methods.