In a move that took courage, the University of British Columbia recently released data on animal research. The numbers on the site, “The Role of Animals in Research,” are staggering. Each of the bold headings below is a statistic from the UBC SITE.
Animals involved in UBC research in 2010: 211,764
That number is a small percentage of the total used in testing, representing only one university. During that same year, another 3.7 million scientific experiments were carried out on animals in Great Britain.
I give UBC credit for courage because they would have known how appalling that number would be for people concerned about animal welfare. In explaining why animal research is essential, they state:
Medical milestones such as antibiotics, anesthetics, heart valve replacements and vaccines to prevent rabies in companion animals have all involved animal research. Since 1901, almost every Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded for innovations dependent on data from animal models. Also, new medicines and treatment must be evaluated in a living organism before being given to humans, according to federal government requirements.
At UBC, animal research is a privilege to be used only when no alternative is possible. It’s true that non-animal techniques, such as cell cultures and computer simulations, are important. However, these methods cannot yet mirror the complicated and sometimes unpredictable processes of a living system.
UBC has adopted “the 3Rs principles of animal use.” That means they try to Reduce the number of animals used in testing by Refining their procedures and Replacing live creatures with non-animal methods wherever possible.
Rodents, fish and reptiles used: 97%
Apparently these three classes of animals are low enough on the of-concern-to-humans scale that subjecting 205,412 of them to laboratory procedures is acceptable. There are at least two problems with this line of thinking.
The first is that we are gradually learning our non-human relatives experience pain and emotions as significant as our own. (Of course, even these discoveries are often made by testing animals in laboratories.)
For example, recent studies have concluded:
- Stressed bees make poorer decisions
- Crayfish try to keep their environment calm and controlled and are visibly upset when something disrupts it
- Male mice about to have sex squeal in delight
- Reptiles respond to stroking and attention
The second problem is that no other species is a 100% match for humans. (In fact, the same is true with humans. Research on men does not always hold true for women—and the reverse.)
In her article on the National Toxicology Program, Heather M. writes:
There are vast physiological differences between people and animals. Meaningful scientific conclusions just can’t be drawn about one species by studying another. Aspirin kills cats and penicillin kills guinea pigs, yet both are considered safe for humans. Arsenic, strychnine, potassium cyanide, and other chemicals which can kill humans, are harmless to certain animals. And let’s not forget about Thalidomide, a drug which was thoroughly tested on animals and determined safe, yet caused birth defects in thousands of children.
Subjected to minor or no discomfort: 68%
Multiplying 211,764 animals by 32% means 67,764 of them were subjected to significant or extreme discomfort. That is a lot of suffering. Humans justify it by pointing to all the scientific advances the sacrifice of animals has brought us.
During World War II, Nazi physicians used similar logic to justify brutal experiments on concentration camp inmates. Coming from classes of humanity deemed criminal or subhuman, the test subjects were considered suitable test subjects. The Jewish Virtual Library details the horrible suffering victims endured. People generally agree such ghoulish practices are never justified, though they continue in various ways in combat, criminal, abusive and other settings.
Where there is less agreement is when the subjects being used in research are not human. While animal rights advocates would end all experimenting on animals, others, including most researchers, insist they are a necessary, if unfortunate, substitute for human subjects. UBC is one research institution attempting to broaden public understanding of their rationale and procedures.
STOP UBC Animal Research is trying to stop animal experimentation at the university and claims, “the real benchmarks of medical progress have relied on…non-animal methodologies.” The group is gathering information that paints an ugly picture of the fate of animals in UBC’s research facilities. Reports on experiments with adult songbirds, piglets and primates make grim reading.
Reviewed for humane care: 100%
“Humane care” seems an oxymoron when it is applied to animal experimentation. The photo is above is from 1981. The lab was shut down when severe abuses were revealed. Still, as long as the suffering of animals continues to be justified in the name of science, animals will continue to be subjected to terrible abuse.
In “Is Animal Testing Ever Okay,” Kayla Coleman writes:
I’m not superhuman. I need medicine. And even though I do purposefully buy makeup and body wash and glass cleaner, etc., that hasn’t been tested on animals, nor do they have any animal-derived ingredients in them, I don’t shun medicine because it was tested on animals. I want medical researchers to find cures for cancer, Parkinson’s and even just headaches. But I don’t think animal testing is the best way to do it. In fact, I think to assume animal testing is the only way to accomplish these goals, is to underestimate the power of science and human innovation. I have faith that we’re better than this.
If you can handle it, watch this PETA video and then weigh in on the conversation.
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Frog photo from Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons; Rescued lab rats photo from SMercury98 via Flickr Creative Commons; Lizard eye photo from Clicksy via Flickr Creative Commons; Monkey photo from Alex Pacheco of PETA (1981) via Wikimedia Commons