There’s an Animal “Bleeding Industry”. Think About That.

The Rise for Animals Team, September 4, 2023

Horseshoe crabs have existed for at least 445 million years, meaning they were here before (and outlived) the dinosaurs. 

But, then came humans, who (together with the biomedical industry they created) have spent the last 50-or-so years exploiting them almost out of existence

In laboratories like this one, horseshoe crabs’ blue blood is forcibly collected. (Photo: Timothy Fadek / REDUX)

Horseshoe crabs have been commodified, harmed and killed, and collectively endangered by the biomedical “bleeding industry”.

Since the 1960s, humans have “bled” millions of horseshoe crabs, a process that involves “captur[ing]” them “as they migrate inshore each spring to breed” (most prolifically along the coasts of Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Virginia) and, then, draining them of about 30% of their blood volume while fully conscious and physically restrained. 

Why? Because this “practice” (i.e., barbarism) is a big money maker for the biomedical research industry, of course. It turns out that these crabs’ unique, blue blood can be used in “endotoxin testing”, or the detection of pathogens in pharmaceutical products.    

Based on industry reports alone, almost 720,000 individual horseshoe crabs were kidnapped and bled in 2021.

But, according to researchers, we need not be concerned because researchers are not killing the crabs on purpose – they are only kidnapping and torturing them, which sometimes “accidentally” kills them. (As many as 30% of seized horseshoe crabs die during the bleeding process and many survivors of the process go on to die soon afterward.) 

This “rationale” is plainly irrational, and conservationists are putting it to task as American horseshoe crab populations continue to decline. Conservationists can demonstrate that horseshoe crabs’ exploitation for biomedical purposes is a driver of their declining populations,  regardless of whether or not they survive the bleeding process: horseshoe crabs who survive being bled and are returned to the ocean run a huge risk of “skip[ping] breeding or d[ying] from blood loss and stress” or finding themselves unable to breed.” 

Further, conservationists extoll that the biomedical exploitation of horseshoe crabs is harming not just the crabs themselves; rather, because horseshoe crabs are integral members of their ecosystems, researchers’ cruel and unethical bleeding practices result in harm to and endangerment of other species (such as shorebirds), as well. 

Horseshoe crabs are saltwater arthropods of the family Limulidae and the only living members of the order Xiphosura. 

Yet, with greed as their motivator, researchers are unwilling to change their practices . . .

Indeed, researchers’ only interest in conserving the horseshoe crab is to be able to continue its practice of exploiting them in the name of profit. Says a spokesperson for Charles River Laboratories – the “biggest bleeding company”: horseshoe crabs should be conserved, firstly, because of the “critical role” they play in the “biopharmaceutical supply chain”. 

Moreover, biomedical research companies investigating the use of “alternatives” to horseshoe crab blood have been motivated, not by any concern for living beings or their environments, but rather by “possible supply chain ‘pinches’” should U.S. authorities designate any of the shorebirds reliant on horseshoe crabs for survival “endangered”. 

  . . . even though non-animal alternatives to the use of horseshoe crab blood already exist.

Despite the biomedical research industry’s characteristic attempts at dishonest deflection (by, for example, repeatedly claiming that there is no “alternative” to the use of horseshoe crabs’ blood), an “alternative” does, in fact, exist. And not only that – it has been endorsed in Europe (since 2019) and approved in Japan, and it costs “about the same” as horseshoe crab blood. 

There is no justification for the biomedical research industry’s continued exploitation of horseshoe crabs, just as there is no ethical justification for its exploitation of any wild (or tame!) other-than-human animals. 

What do elephants, wolves, armadillos, whales and squirrels all have in common? Read the woefully lengthy list of surprising animal species that are subjected to research, experiments, and testing in the U.S. 

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