Philosophy - Index > Testing - Index
Survey reveals animals killed in university teaching continuing despite available alternatives

Feb 2012

The findings of a survey of European universities reveal that thousands of animals including mice, rats, guinea pigs, frogs and dogs are being used in unnecessary university practicals every year when humane alternatives are readily available.

The Lord Dowding Fund (LDF), which awards grants for non-animal scientific and medical research, commissioned researchers from the University of Edinburgh to conduct a Europe-wide survey on innovative teaching and learning in pharmacology and physiology in higher education in Europe (ten countries were surveyed: the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Holland, Slovenia, Czech Republic and the Republic of Macedonia). This included questions about the current use of animals and the use of computer-based alternatives as replacements.

The findings are especially disturbing since alternatives, including computer simulations, have been available for university courses in subjects like pharmacology for almost 30 years. The Lord Dowding Fund has been at the forefront of developing these technologies, having started funding the creation of the first computer simulations for use in 1986, and continues to update and develop these for worldwide use.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of the LDF said: "It is often claimed that no one would ever use animals if they did not have to. Yet here we see an utter disregard of the available alternatives and for animal life. There needs to be a clear political Europe-wide commitment to eradicate the use of animals in university practicals, or it is simply never going to stop."

The Edinburgh University team sent questionnaires to 294 institutions in 10 European countries. Of the universities sampled, the UK had the fourth highest average levels of animal use in teaching after France and Spain with Spain using the highest number of mammals and the UK the highest number of amphibians. The most commonly used animals are mice, rats, guinea pigs, and frogs, although dogs are being used in Macedonia and Spain.

Jan Creamer said: "These are basic practicals teaching known facts in subjects like pharmacology. The data that the student needs to analyse, understand and participate in the practical can be generated using the computer simulations we have developed. Students have been securing degrees in these subjects using humane alternatives for more than two decades, animals should not be dying in this way."

The LDF had commissioned the survey to establish the extent of use of innovative teaching and learning methods in pharmacology and physiology which are the disciplines using most animals in teaching, and the barriers to the adoption of humane alternatives. The authors Professor David Dewhurst and Dr Akiko Hemmi believe that the study possibly represents the most comprehensive survey carried out to date particularly in those countries where there is no systematic collection of animal use data.

Professor Dewhurst said: "Globally there are ethical objections to the use of animals in bio/medical sciences training and there are good, robust alternatives available, which have proved to be educationally effective. I used computer-based alternatives in my own teaching for many years. They were well-liked by students, freed more of my time to diagnose students� learning problems and provide additional tuition during a practical class, and saved considerable time and money."

The LDF will be pressing for a European timetable to eradicate the use of animals in higher education.

In the EU the latest figures state that 207,457 animals were used for "education and training" (this figure is not believed to include the majority of animals used in practicals) so the figure will be far greater. 

The University Grants Commission, which is the regulatory body for higher education in India, has recently published recommendations calling for an end to animal dissection and animal experimentation for university and college zoology and life science courses - a move that will save the lives of approximately 19 million animals each year.

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