By Milan Lu
Should animals be used for research is a controversial question that sparks heated debates worldwide and even though it’s a complex issue the pain and suffering animals go through every day is well known. Today tens of millions of animals are used for research purposes and 90% of them are rats, mice and birds. The number of other animals such as cats, dogs, monkeys and rabbits and so on are kept track of by authorities but since they make up about 10% of all the animals used in research the exact amount of the other 90% cannot be determined.
Many animal advocates strongly discourage animal experimentation a.k.a vivisection, stating that it is morally wrong to harm one species in hopes of benefiting another. Beyond this ethical perspective, there are serious scientific and health issues involved as well. Animal experimentation has led to countless scientific dead ends, while diverting attention and funds away from more appropriate scientific techniques. Animal research never guaranteed that medications and other products would be safe and effective for humans and all drugs that have caused severe illness or death in human patients after its introduction into the market had been tested on other animals before.
Animals are mainly used in two fields:
Every year, out of the thousands of new cosmetic, personal care and household products that are introduced into the market, most of them have been animal tested at some point in their development. These products have gone through a long and complex testing process that leaves millions of animals mutilated, burned, poisoned and gassed in old-fashioned and unnecessary tests. Manufacturers claim that they perform these tests to ensure the customers safety when using their products but in reality it is to limit the company's liability to its customers in case of a lawsuit. There is even a false belief that animal testing is required by law for cosmetics. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does urge companies to conduct whatever tests are appropriate to validate the safety of their products. As a result, millions of rabbits and other animals continue to fall victim to painful eye and skin irritancy tests.
Animal testing merely determines the level of toxicity. Products that have been tested on animals such as oven cleaners, soaps and detergents are regularly introduced into the market place but they still remain toxic and harmful if accidently ingested or used in a way not intended by the manufacturer. Some cosmetics and personal care products that are intended to treat or prevent disease, or affect the human body such as antiperspirants and fluoride toothpaste are considered drugs. These products must comply with the drug requirements of the FDA and animals are almost always utilized as the test models.
In response to pressure from the public and animal advocacy groups many large consumer product companies have discontinued animal testing in favour of non animal alternatives today. But animal testing remains an accepted practice for many of the largest companies, despite its limited assurance of protecting consumer health and safety.
Even though fewer animals are used in the development of products than a couple of years ago, there are two tests that continue to be utilized by companies that still test on animals, namely the Draize and the LD-50. These outdated tests have been used for decades, testing the same chemicals on the same animal species year after year, in spite of the fact that the information resulting from these tests are not being used to protect human safety but only to determine toxicity levels.
- The Draize tests attempt to measure the harmfulness of chemicals to humans by observing the damage they cause to the eyes and skin of animals. Once the test period is over these animals are then killed so that their internal organs can be examined. It consists of two types of tests:
- The Draize eye irritancy test
This test applies solutions and products to the test animal’s eyes directly and left on for days.
- The Draize skin irritancy test
The test substances are applied onto the shaved and scraped skin of the animals and then covered with plastic sheeting.
- The LD-50 test is used to measure the acute toxicity levels of certain ingredients on live animals. LD-50 stands for Lethal Dose 50 Per cent, the amount or concentration of a substance that will kill half of a test group of animals within a specified time period when that substance is forcibly ingested, inhaled or otherwise exposed to an animal. At the end of the test period, those animals that have not already died are killed. This test has been banned in parts of Europe, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discontinued supporting it.
The LD-50 and Draize tests have been shown to be less reliable and more expensive than existing non-animal alternatives today as there are many variables among species of animals and even among individual animals. The results of non-animal tests tend to be more consistent and better predictors for human reactions. In addition, companies don’t have to spend money on breeding, caging, feeding and disposing of animals that are used in testing laboratories.
Companies are taking a closer look at animal tests and the results and many major companies are discontinuing the use of these tests on products and ingredients that have already been tested or for which the information is available. Databases of information on chemical interactions and toxicity levels are also available for companies to access and thus reducing the need for animal testing. With the steady development of alternatives, some day animal testing is likely to be made obsolete by advancements in technology.
Animal testing in scientific research is perhaps the hardest field to accept change. Many scientists support animal testing even though it has been established that the results of animal testing are flawed, cruel and a waste of time and money. Scientists are people after all and they need to support themselves and their families and to do so they need money. The more scientific papers you publish every year the more stable you are financially and these papers cannot be published unless you work fast enough.
Animal experimentation is the best option in situations like these as opposed to clinical testing with human volunteers, because animals have a smaller life span when compared to humans and diseases progress faster within them. Animal research continues because it is in the best financial interests of scientists, as well as a number of other entities such as universities, regulation bureaucrats, pharmaceutical companies, scientific journals, animal breeders and they all profit from animal testing either directly or indirectly.
Along with the profit motives behind animal testing other factors do play a part as well such as the resistance to change. Many scientists believe in tradition and these traditions say animal testing is appropriate. We as humans and society in general don’t like change and we don’t change unless something catastrophic happens. Likewise convention is given a higher place in science than innovation at times. Another reason it is supported is ego and habit. Some scientists who have published hundreds of papers using animal testing wouldn’t like their work being called meaningless so they don’t support anti vivisection movements to protect their reputation and image.
Other scientists use animal testing out of sheer habit since they have been taught that way and haven’t been given enough room to think critically on what they are being taught. Another reason is that scientists are afraid of the guilt. Imagine the amount of guilt they would feel if they are told that what they are doing is meaningless and that they have killed thousands of innocent animals for nothing? They wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of guilt and most of them do animal testing because they honestly think they are doing what’s right.
Animal testing for scientific research takes place in two ways. The most common being medical research and the other being in drug development and testing.
Medical research is what most people think of when they hear the phrase animal experimentation. Animals used in medical research are used to model human disease, and in what is called translational research. Everyone wants diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, stroke, heart attack, AIDS and so on. to have cures and many people envision these cures happening by using animals to model human disease.
This doesn’t sound so bad does it? In the past, animals were used to prove very basic things about the bodily functions of mammals: Arteries carry blood away from the heart and veins carry it back; the immune system is involved in fighting infection and so forth. So for a hundred or so years using animals to model human beings looked promising. But today we are studying human disease and human physiology on a much more microscopic level.
Using animal testing is losing its credibility as today we know that even members of the same species react differently to the same drug and disease. Many tests have been conducted to see the difference in reactions by animals and humans in testing out medications. One such experiment was conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of America where they tested 12 anti-cancer drugs (on mice) that are currently being used successfully in humans.
The scientists studied mice that were growing 48 different kinds of human cancers and treated them with the 12 drugs. They found that 30/48 times, the drugs were ineffective in the mice. In other words, 63 per cent of the time, the mouse models with human tumours inaccurately predicted human response. Among the similar tests that have been carried out, most of them have proved that animal testing is ineffective and or dangerous to human life.
With the continued rise in medical care costs Spending money on drugs that don’t work, and that even are potentially dangerous, just because they looked promising in animals is a waste of resources and a danger to human patients. The same medication can have a different reaction in twins so how can we determine the reactions of humans by using an entirely different species altogether?
- Drug development and testing
Just like in medical research using animals in drug development and testing is ineffective due to the vast differences we humans have to any other animal used in the testing as well as the differences we have between one another. Ethnicity, age gender and genetics all play a role in determining how a person reacts to a certain type of drug. If that many factors affect the effectiveness of a drug how can animal testing prove anything about its effectiveness with humans?
Animal testing in drug development and testing is used mainly to see to determine if a certain drug is safe and to determine if it’s effective. Animal testing fails to give accurate information on both accounts. Drugs are, theoretically, supposed to work on a specific single target/molecule and leave all other targets alone. The problem is that often this is truer in theory than practice.
The thought about taking a drug that’s not animal tested may sound scary but even if they were they still have Adverse drug reactions in some people. Medications may save lives but ADRs rank high in the list of leading cause of deaths worldwide and legal drugs kill approximately 100,000 people per year which is a lot more than that of illegal drugs. ADR’s cost the public millions in health care expenses where some may suffer from severe side effects while some may not have any effect at all. No drug Is ever 100% effective as some of the most common drugs out there like Aspirin and Penicillin causes life threatening allergic reactions in some but for most is an excellent anti-inflammatory or life saving drug.
When buying certain products you may have noticed a little rabbit icon, the leaping bunny, which may differ in style but is an internationally recognized symbol that states that a product wasn’t tested on animals. Some products that do not display the leaping bunny symbol state that they have not tested the product on animals instead. Using animals for testing is slowly reducing but it won’t stop altogether for some time. It’s unethical to evaluate the importance of a certain species life as opposed to the lives of humans and even though animal testing has helped in the past in saving countless human lives, it is no longer an effective method of testing.