Figures on animal testing are difficult to obtain, but it is estimated that around 100 million animals are used in experiments annually, though not all countries keep statistics on this and this figure does not include invertebrates. Types of animals used include mice, fish, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs, cows, birds, cats, dogs and non-human primates. Testing is performed for a number of reasons, ranging from medical and military to cosmetic testing.
Animals suffer such vastly different experiments in laboratories that is difficult to try and discuss individual experiments or treatment. We are all aware of some of the horrific experiments performed, from Harlow’s infamous experiments causing attachment disorders in monkeys to torturing baby rats to “study” child abuse. Few argue that these experiments are kind, what is argued is that they are necessary. Even ignoring ethical considerations, the animal model of research is deeply flawed, 9 out of 10 drugs that pass animal tests still go on to fail or cause harm in clinical trials on humans. Animals do not get many of the diseases that humans do, so these diseases must be artificially induced. This simply does not give us an accurate measure of how organically caught diseases will respond to treatment, human cell tissue gives us a much more accurate picture. To use cancer as an example, Fran Visco, founder of the National Breast Cancer Coalition said, “Animals don’t reflect the reality of cancer in humans. We cure cancer in animals all the time, but not in people.”
As for the research methodology, it is widely accepted that animal experiments have serious limitations in that results in humans cannot be extrapolated from results in animals. A mixture of high dosage, artificial introduction of diseases and stress conditions of animals in confinement mean there are simply too many variables to gain reliable results. The cures which work on animals very often do not work in humans. Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the US National Cancer Institute, points out that: “The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in human beings.” Some gains are made from animal testing, however, last year, globally, we killed 115 million animals in scientific experiments, yet the FDA approved only 35 new treatments. While many will argue that this cost acceptable for the perceived benefits, we do not need to look far into our history to see the consequences of the ethical view that it is acceptable for the few to suffer so long as it benefits the many.
So why do we continue to test on animals? As one researcher puts it, we don’t use animals because it is good science, we use them “because they are cheap, easy to handle and few people care what you do to them.” There are a wealth of alternatives to animal testing and many organisations achieve significant success using these methods. A large number of people depend on animal tested medications to live and there is nothing wrong with that, it is not the fault of those who depend on medication that medical research is performed the way it is. However, if we disapprove of these horrific experiments, we must all do our best to boycott companies and charities who test on animals, and instead support those research institutions who benefit humans without the unimaginable cost borne by millions of suffering animals the world over.