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Philosophy of Animal Rights > Animal Testing - Index
Animal Testing: Crucial or Cruel?
May 4, 2011

Two rhesus monkeys at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center have been part of a study on nutrition and aging for 20 years.
Photographer: SHNS photo courtesy University of Wisconsin

 

By Lee Bowman, Scripps Howard News Service

WASHINGTON - Every year, at more than 1,500 labs across the nation, tens of millions of animals are used for biomedical research, chemical testing and training.
No one knows exactly how many animals are utilized by research because federal animal welfare law doesn't cover the species that are used most often -- rats and mice. Nor is work with birds, fish, reptiles or lower life forms monitored.

Federal reports show that nearly 1 million "regulated" animals -- dogs, cats, monkeys and apes, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, pigs and other farm animals -- were used or awaiting use in experiments during the fiscal year that ended in September 2009. Published estimates are that 80 million to 100 million unregulated animals are also used in research each year.

"I don't think most people have any idea of the vastness of the animal research field in this country,'' said Sue Leary, president of the American Anti-Vivisection Society. "Many don't realize what's going on right down the street from them."

Lab animals rarely retire. Although not every test is "terminal" -- some are used for multiple tests and some are studied through old age -- most die either because that's the only way for scientists to study the disease or injury in the animal or because it's deemed inhumane to have it suffer.

Animal protectionists generally denounce the experiments as cruel and unjustified by the results.

'Acceptance of animal suffering is ingrained in how animals are thought of in the research field,'' said Kathleen Conlee, director of animal research issues for the Humane Society of the United States. 'While there are laws and guidelines for how some lab animals are sheltered and cared for, there is really nothing prohibited in what can be done in an experiment.'

Proponents counter animals have aided almost every major advance in biology and medicine of the past century, and will for the foreseeable future.

"If you've ever had a vaccine, antibiotics, chemotherapy, joint replacement or bypass surgery, among many other therapies, you've been a beneficiary of animal research,'' said Liz Hodge, communications director for the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a Washington nonprofit sponsored by research institutions and companies.
Researchers feel they need advocates to promote their work since testing opponents 'are incredibly effective in getting their message out there -- with emotionally-charged material," Hodge said, often using graphic videos shot by undercover volunteers of animals and lab workers in their worst moments.

The battle for public support is reflected in national polling reported by the foundation. After showing support for animal studies around 70 percent for decades, polls showed that acceptance falling to 64 percent in 2004 and 54 percent in 2008. It was at 60 percent in January.

Many researchers feel American attitudes toward lab animals reflect a society where 63 percent of households own pets, but only 2 percent of the population lives on working farms, or even in rural areas. Others cite the 'Disney effect' of films and television shows.

Research advocates say scientists want and need animals to get proper care and be healthy to get the best results from them.

'People don't understand the amount of personnel (in labs) that are devoted to making sure animals are well cared for,'' said Bill Yates, a researcher-administrator at the University of Pittsburgh . "Even small to moderate sized institutions have a large veterinary staff. Most have enrichment specialists who try to make the daily lives of the animals more pleasant with toys and exercise equipment."

Kathy Guillermo, director of research lab investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, counters: 'There aren't many laws that protect animals in labs and the few that there are, are routinely violated at facilities across the country. Most labs have some degree of abuse and neglect.'

Scientists who work with dogs, cats or monkeys are most likely to be confronted by protests, hate mail, web pages decrying their work, even vandalism of their cars and homes.

For scientists like Stuart Zola, director of the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta , who has faced protesters for years, the pressure is part of the job.

After a panel discussion on 'Why it is unethical NOT to continue animal research' held during the February meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, during which several scientists said they dropped out of animal work due to activists, Zola said he didn't know anyone personally who had quit. But he also objected to a reporter videotaping the discussion.

He said his greater concern is that public support for biomedical research in general, as well as with animals, has waned because scientists fail to adequately explain 'what we do and why we do it, as well as how much care we take with animals.''

Even veterinarians who have taken an increasing role in trying to improve the lot of lab animals say they don't want the studies to end.

"I have presided over the deaths of thousands of laboratory animals, and have seen more pain and suffering than I care to recall, yet I make no call to stop animal experimentation now, only to make it better," Dr. Larry Carbone, chief veterinarian for the University of California at San Francisco, wrote in his 2006 book "What Animals Want," which examined lab animal issues.

The one area of agreement between researchers and animal protectionists is that research and investment into alternatives to animal studies is accelerating.

'We're spending a lot of time and money focusing on finding better ways and better data -- animals really aren't good sources for answers to human problems,'' said PETA's Guillermo. 'Even the National Institutes of Health is putting some pressure on scientists to show their research is -- not just satisfying someone's curiosity.'

Zola says, 'No matter how much technology we put into test tubes and chips and genes, the question is always what's the best and fastest way to get therapies to people. That still has to involve animal research. We wouldn't do it if we didn't have to do it.'


COMMENTS

Jenni Chante

"We wouldn't do it if we didn't have to" - is probably true, but not for the reasons they present us. I've heard that lab's have to carry out research in order to be granted funding, and the quickest and easiest way of churning out research papers is to study animals, seeing as they are more or less disposal to labs.

Another couple of points important to mention - 1. Once a drug proves effective in an animal it then has to be tested on humans to make sure its safe for us. Many of these drugs fail the human trails because, oh yeah, animals aren't the same humans!!

2. There have been cases of drugs NOT working on animals, but then being shown to be very effective for humans. Perhaps the most famous and important example of this is penicillin, which kills cats and guinea pigs.

I think we also have to ask the question, if we have to kill and cause great suffering to animals in order to protect our physical health, is it really worth if it costs us our 'humanity'? Sure, our body's will still be alive, but what of our souls?

Michele Palatella

the vivisectors are criminals with men and animals; a lot of people die for medicine and they make animals experimentazions for cover up the real experiment on men and children in Asia and Africa and in western world too.

Doris Engles

Ever wonder about all the free stuff you see on the web? It appears like everybody wants to give stuff away for nothing, nada, zilch. But are these items truly free of charge? If so, how can these companies afford to give away all of these coupons and samples? It's truly all about you, the consumer. We live in a very competitive world marketplace place. The internet has upped the ante in terms of who could be seen and heard via all with the mass media. Now companies need to make lots of noise and this is one way that can do it. One of the best place on the web is called "123 Get Samples" and get your free stuffs

 

Doreen Rosanen

Any human who harms God's beautiful, wonderful animals should be put in
prison for life. Humans just do not know how to care for themselves because of
their greed, selfishness and stupidity. We do not need toxic chemicals to harm
animals or ourselves. Live simply and care and love God's animals, and the
environment and you may find yourself surprisingly healthy. Human do create
their own illnesses. Learn to live with common sense, compassion, empathy,
reasoning, wisdom and moral, and above all lower human population that has
been a burden on Mother Nature . Do not harm God's animals in any way
because they are worthy of living - it is humans who are destroying the planet
so use them.

Julesaz Arizona

CRUEL CRUEL CRUEL. These animals have NO choice in the matter and are subjected to painful treatments and lives. I don't care what it is for it is not right to essentially torture another living thing for our benefit. I think there are plenty of people that have life sentences or given the death penalty ... they should pay a debt to society and be used for testing. What better to test on humans for human products. Don't want to be used for testing... don't kill someone. Choice

 

Boliver Bucklenutz

Why am I not surprised that the most liberal state has the most labs for animal testing. That's jacked up.

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