Laboratory Animal Research
(Animals in Scientific Procedures)
“Scientists should be on tap but not on top” – Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
The subject of laboratory animal experimentation (animal testing – vivisection) is an emotionally-charged one. Quite apart from the clear animal welfare implications, for those unfortunate creatures who live in such conditions and are subjected to inhumane experimental procedures, there is a huge scientific question mark over the practice.
Invertebrates (e.g. fruit fly) : amphibians, mostly frogs : fish : reptiles : rodents (e.g. rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters) : rabbits : ferrets : cats : dogs : equines (e.g. horses, ponies, donkeys) : pigs : ruminants (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, deer) : primates (e.g. marmosets, monkeys, apes). The vast invertebrate numbers are never recorded.
In the UK, over 2½ million animals were recorded by the Home Office for 2000 and this figure appears to be consistent in recent years, having fallen from a high of 5 million in the 1970s. The figure is not falling, despite stated resolves.*
The USA does not record all animals used. In 2000, more than 12 million were recorded but estimates suggest that nearer to 23 million is more accurate. Japan and USA head the list of animal experimenters, with Canada, UK, France and Germany completing the top six. These six countries use an estimated 36 million animals per year, while the worldwide usage is estimated at 41 to 100 million.
In the UK, 60% of the animals used are rats and mice, with other rodents, rabbits, birds and fish bringing that figure to 97%.
Figures released by the Home Office in July 2007 show that the UK exceeded 3 million animal experiments during 2006. That includes only experiments that might cause distress, pain, suffering or lasting harm. This is a 15-year high and makes the UK the biggest perpetrator in Europe. This included over four thousand primates, thirty-six thousand sheep and seven-and-a-half thousand dogs.*
Figures published in August 2009 (i.e. for 2008) reveal a massive rise in the use of animals: to 3.7 million. This includes a rise in the use of cats, horses and monkeys. Despite the rise in use of alternatives, we are clearly not showing any greater respect or compassion for animals or cognisance of the bad science of animal experiments.
Much of the work is performed ostensibly to provide medical or safety testing of chemicals, for human application. There is such a gulf between species, however, with regard to the way in which each responds to different stimuli, that conclusions based on animal experiments cannot be applied to the human condition. Even in the case of chimpanzees, who share well over 95% of their genetic material with us, the differences are massive. They look very different and they are very different. Chimpanzees cannot, for instance, develop AIDS, although they can be infected by the virus. There is a renewed drive by the research community to allow more primate experiments, for such human health problems as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis etc. This is not easily explicable, since those animals (in fact any animals) do not develop such human diseases!
There is a massive development in the creation and use of transgenic animals (genetically-modified, GM). Apart from the ethics and risks of such meddling with DNA, the scientific extrapolation from such work is equally questionable. As of 2007, we even have the new and very frightening development of human-animal hybrids, ‘because we can’. Animals are also, of course, used in the xenotransplant field. The lure of profit, fame and kudos knows no bounds.
We all know the disasters that can be unleashed on humans, as a result of the use of animal experiments. To list a few, such as Thalidomide, Vioxx, Opren, Zonax, Iressa, Exanta, Celebrex, Torcetrapib, Prexige etc., is to tell a frightening and harrowing story of human suffering. Surprisingly, despite the obvious lessons, the methodology is still used. It is sometimes said that animal experiments correlate with human experience in about 50% of cases (some estimates are a little higher and some a little lower). However, that information is only obtained in retrospect, after trials in humans. It is impossible to predict in advance, whether the test on humans will result in success or tragedy (as happened so spectacularly in March 2006, in Northwick Park Hospital, when six volunteers had a severe reaction to the monoclonal antibody TGN1412. Several ended up in a critical condition). Somehow, even after human trials, drugs escape onto the market which prove quite deadly, maiming or killing as they go.
The other side of the coin is that potentially valuable medicines can be overlooked, because of this same species difference. Penicillin, for instance, would never have been allowed past the first animal tests, had it been tested on guinea pigs.
It is argued that a great many medical advances have depended upon animal experiments. The arguments are unconvincing at best. The evidence goes the other way. One of the examples cited is blood groups and blood transfusions. However, human blood grouping is so different to all other animals, with such different consequences of incompatible transfusions, that animal experiments could not have led to understanding blood groups in humans. It is difficult to understand why this example is quoted. The Austrian scientist and Nobel Prize winner Karl Landsteiner discovered blood groups through meticulous observation, not through animal experimentation.
If animal experiments were so valuable, why have the millions spent on cancer research, for instance, not only failed to find the answers but also failed to stop the situation from worsening? The slogan “Support Cancer Research UK and help save lives” seems ironic, in view of the number of animals tortured and slaughtered in the name of such research.
Animal experiments are supposed to have helped our treatment of heart disease. There is, however, no animal model for human heart disease, which is largely a result of lifestyle and diet, which factors are in our own hands. It is apparently easier and preferable for society to seek an ‘instant cure’ for its ills than to address the fundamental causes.
Experiments on laboratory animals for veterinary medicines and for patent diets may seem to avoid some of these pitfalls. However, breed, species and individual variations are still enormous. For instance, when ivermectin was first used for dogs with mange, after a series of successful tests, it killed Collies. Animal experiments failed to predict the calamity that befell many families. Couple breed species and individual variations with the abnormal environment and conditions, under which such laboratory tests occur and the relevance of laboratory animal tests to animals in general still cannot be accurately predicted.
If the practice were humane, arguments against the practice would have to be based on human welfare grounds alone. That would be powerful enough. Add in the massive welfare cost to the animals involved, on a huge scale, both in the UK and around the world and it is startling that the practice has not been officially vilified and banned. The RCVS oath requires all vets to uphold the welfare of animals under their care, yet veterinary surgeons are an essential part of the licensing process, for animal experimentation. If their services were to be withdrawn, animal experiments in the UK would have to cease.
An often-repeated response to criticism is that welfare is a ‘top priority’. How can it be, to incarcerate animals and commit them to distressing and painful procedures? This is not done for the animals’ benefit. If those who make such remarks were honest, they would have to admit that welfare has at least to be secondary to the experimental objective.
There is often talk of finding alternatives to animal experiments. That’s a worthy thought, as long as the mental process involved does not sanctify animal experimentation by giving it a position of importance, assuming a benefit for which a worthy substitute must be found. An alternative way of thinking is required. Animal experiments do not work. They are cruel. They are fraudulent. Their results are so deceptive that we do not need to emulate such a failed strategy. We need to abolish them not await alternatives.
In natural medicine, whether homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine or other therapy, there is no need to perform animal experiments or vivisection. The Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre cannot join in or support any research that involves such practices. We have, in fact, turned down opportunities for becoming involved with high-profile research, on these grounds alone.
The arguments are bound to rage on, especially in view of the multi-million pound industry behind the practice. However, one question is still very difficult to answer: even if our society found that much benefit did in fact accrue, from the results of animal experiments, would we anyway have the right to do it?
It is worth ending with a couple of quotes, made after the Northwick Park Hospital disaster. These guys should know:
Professor Greg W., of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, who was a key figure in the first development of monoclonal antibodies 20 years ago, said that those testing TGN1412 might have been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that it did not seem to harm monkeys – but it was wrong to make too many assumptions based on animal experiments.
Professor Kent W., Chief Executive Officer of the MHRA, said the product had been extensively tested on animals prior to the phase I trial, although it was possible the product had completely unanticipated side effects in humans.
The AVMC cannot support animal experimentation (vivisection), not least because it conflicts with the veterinary oath to ensure the welfare of animals.
At the AVMC and in our home, we avoid products that have involved experimentation on animals. We discuss that issue very vigorously with companies who perform or who support animal experimentation. We lobby for all animal experimenting charities and those that fund animal experiments to declare this fact on all their literature and collecting points. We ask that all their collectors and fund-raisers should be clearly and explicitly informed of the practice. If these organisations are not ashamed of the activity, why not let the public know? What can be wrong with transparent and fair dealing?
Visit: www.uncaged.co.uk who have some vital campaigns. While we enthusiastically support their aversion to animal experimenting pet food manufacturers (http://www.uncaged.co.uk/petfood.htm) we are unable to recommend feeding ANY manufactured pet food.
We are unable to support the Animal Health Trust (Newmarket), on account of its animal experimentation culture. Likewise, the positions held by the RSPCA, the RCVS, the BVA and the BSAVA are equivocal and fail to prioritise on animal welfare. Mentioning these organisations does not mean that there are no others similarly failing to put animal welfare as top priority and which sit on the fence on this serious issue.
N.B.: Herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and other natural therapies require no animal experimentation for their use and development.