Philosophy of AR > Animal Testing - Index > Anti-Vivisection Index

Animal Experimentation

Let the people speak

Toxic shocker

Lessons for the world

Personal views

Beastly work

Animal madness [27 Jan 01]

Lab rats, rejoice! [9 Dec 00]

Gone to ground... [17 Jul 99]

Saved by sperm [22 May 99]

Hidden sacrifice [8 May 99]

No reprieve for America's antibody mice [17 Apr 99]

Activists up the ante
[17 Apr 99]

Dying so we might live
[20 Feb 99]

Painful choices [6 Feb 99]

Hunger striker pulls back from the brink [19 Dec 98]

A martyr in the making
[12 Dec 98]

Cosmetic change [21 Nov 98]

Lifting the lid [31 Oct 98]

Young people question vivisection [6 Jun 98]

An open wound [28 Mar 98]

Antibody `cruelty' to be phased out [15 Nov 97]

Silent slaughter [25 Oct 97]

The means to an end
[25 Oct 97]

Organs for research are on the cards [5 Apr 97]

Chickens could save rabbits from painful tests [2 Nov 96]

Pioneers cut out animal experiments [31 Aug 96]

Spare parts . . . but not for surgery [22 Jun 96]

Ethics and openness
[27 May 95]

Experts alone should not decide on animal tests
[6 May 95]



Toxic shocker

Cosmetics tests on animals have already been banned in Britain. Soon they will be outlawed throughout the European Union. But in 1997, more than 600 000 animals, mostly mice, were used in other toxicity tests in Britain. Around 100 000 of them died.

Most of the animals - more than 400 000 - were involved in testing drugs. And our poll suggests that while most people accept the necessity of some drugs safety tests, they don't support toxicity tests on other products.

We chose a garden insecticide as a product that many people would use and are likely to understand would need rigorous safety tests to minimise any risk to health. Yet 68 per cent disapproved of mice being used to test insecticide safety, if the animals were likely to become ill. This is nearest any experiment on mice came to matching the 86 per cent disapproval for cosmetics tests involving animal suffering.

But would a ban on toxicity tests be practical? Experts say that unilateral action in one country would be futile, and could even lead to greater suffering by shifting tests required by law to protect consumers from hazardous chemicals to nations with lower standards for animal welfare.

Any effort to phase out toxicity tests on animals would need to lean heavily on the OECD, the club to which the leading industrialised nations belong. Officials at the OECD's headquarters in Paris draw up guidelines for the types of tests needed to clear products for sale. Since 1979, they have set standards which allow tests conducted in one country to be accepted by regulatory authorities in each of the organisation's 29 members. This means tests only have to be done once. "I think there's been a saving of 40 per cent of all animals used in toxicology testing since the guidelines were first developed," says Herman Koeter of the OECD.

For many substances, the guidelines demand data from mice and one other species. They are updated to introduce new procedures when officials are convinced that they will produce the same result with fewer animals. But all OECD member nations have to agree to any change, and campaigners for animal welfare argue that the OECD has been too slow to back alternative tests based on cell or tissue cultures.

Meanwhile, companies are devising new methods to screen out excessively toxic chemicals before they get anywhere near an animal. Zeneca Agrochemicals, for instance, is working on a "biochip" which contains human genes that are activated by exposure to toxic chemicals. But regulators say that animal toxicity tests will be essential for the foreseeable future.

If our survey had followed hard on the heels of a high-profile scare linking the use of an inadequately tested insecticide to cancer or birth defects, the results might have been very different. But as the recent furore in Britain over genetically modified foods has shown, scares of this type seldom provoke a reasoned debate. The onus is now on governments and companies to explain why they believe that experiments most people find distasteful are a necessary evil.

By Andy Coghlan

From New Scientist, 22 May 1999