A rat sits alone in a cage merely one-third of a foot in size. He’s been given cancer so that a new drug can be trialed on his body. His life will be a short one and will end when his body can no longer handle the disease. The drug that he sacrificed his life to test will likely fail to move forward to the next phase of trials, making his suffering effectively meaningless. Unfortunately, he is but one of the millions of animals that suffer in labs around the world every year.
What Is Animal Testing?
Animal testing is generally performed in the production of either cosmetics or medicine. The aim is to help establish whether these products are safe for humans, by examining their effects on animals.
Whether to test cosmetics and other beauty products on animals is left up to the manufacturer in the United States, and is not required by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The only country that does require animal testing for some cosmetic products is China, where particular products such as hair dye and sunscreen must be tested on animals if being marketed in the country.
Testing for Medicine
Animal testing for medical purposes takes place at virtually every research university in the United States. Animals are used as subjects prior to new medications or procedures being tested in people, during the preclinical phase of drug development.
The History of Animal Testing
Records of using animal models for research date back to early Greek scientists including Aristotle, who performed experiments on animals. Ibn Zuhr, an Arab physician, is the first known to have used animal models in experimental surgical procedures prior to attempting the surgeries on humans, in the 12th century.
In more recent years, the use of animals for medical research has been a topic of much debate. This debate has led to the passage of laws regulating animal use in a number of countries including Japan, New Zealand, and Brazil. In the U.S., the Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1966 following the kidnapping of Pepper, a family’s much-loved dalmatian, who ended up being used for experimentation before being euthanized.
What Types of Animals Are Used?
Different animals are used for different types of experiments, but some of the most frequently used animals globally are rats, mice, birds, fish, cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, and farmed animals.
When it comes to research, invertebrates are considered to have several benefits over vertebrates. The first of these is that regulations pertaining to welfare and care standards often do not apply to invertebrates, meaning that researchers are able to save time and resources by avoiding lengthy paperwork. Invertebrates are also abundant and have simpler anatomies than vertebrates, making them easier to use en masse for some projects. The housing requirements of invertebrates are also lower, enabling researchers to keep dozens, hundreds, or thousands together in one enclosure. The simplicity of invertebrates’ biological makeup can also be a disadvantage for researchers, however, when testing certain new drugs.
Using vertebrates in research is a primary method by which scientists test new drugs and procedures prior to applying them to human subjects. Many vertebrates in the United States—such as dogs, cats, and primates—have their welfare protected, at least partially, by the Animal Welfare Act. The act outlines that several species are excluded from protection, including rats and mice, which are the most commonly used vertebrates, though there are further protections outlined in federal regulations for any research facilities receiving federal funding, and this includes universities.
What Are Laboratories Like?
This video tour of a research facility shows the stark reality for animals raised for life in a lab. Though the dogs in the facility are let outside twice a day, their kennels are visibly barren with no bed and only one toy each. The rats and mice exist in minuscule enclosures, though the mice do at least enjoy the company of other mice. Like the dogs, the pigs are housed in barren enclosures with next to no mental stimulation besides other pigs, despite the high intelligence of the species.
What’s Wrong With Animal Testing?
How Many Animals Die From Animal Testing Every Year?
There is no way of being sure precisely how many animals are used for testing each year around the world, as most countries do not require records to be kept of every animal used. Estimates suggest that 115 million animals or more are used every year. Rehoming animals following their use as lab animals is increasing in popularity with labs, yet due to the dangerous nature of testing many animals don’t have this option. Many animals are exposed to toxic chemicals and diseases, have their bodies altered, have their tissue analyzed following their euthanasia as part of a study, or are otherwise unfit to be rehomed following their use as test subjects.
Is Animal Testing Cruel?
In many laboratory settings performing animal research, the animals do suffer, meaning that animal testing can by definition be cruel. Laboratories attempt to mitigate this suffering with the use of pain medications, sedation, and anesthesia. Another mitigation technique employed is that researchers set a limit to the level of suffering animal subjects will endure prior to euthanasia. Once an animal reaches the predetermined level of suffering the animals will be humanely euthanized.
Is Animal Testing Painful?
Researchers that employ animal testing take measures to mitigate suffering in the animals on which they experiment. However, there are some experiments, such as pain studies, in which these methods of mitigation cannot be effectively applied.
Is Animal Testing Archaic?
There are several alternative ways of evaluating the effectiveness of new drugs and procedures that do not involve animals. The existence of these alternatives makes using animals in testing to meet the goals of people even more ethically problematic.
Is Animal Testing Wasteful?
The results of studies on animals are of limited use in assessing the value of health treatments for humans, and the vast majority of drugs tested on animals prove to be ineffective for treating human disease. This means millions of dollars are currently wasted on testing drugs that will end up being proven useless.
Are Animal Test Results Reliable?
Despite the millions of animal lives that are lost every year in support of scientific research, the results of these experiments often do not translate reliably to human subjects. Not only do 90 percent of drugs that are successful in animal trials fail when applied to human volunteers, there is also a high likelihood that many drugs that fail during animal trials would have been successful in treating human disease.
Is Animal Testing Illegal?
More than 40 countries, including Australia, Mexico, and Norway limit or outright ban animal testing for cosmetics. In the U.S., seven states including Hawai’i, Maryland, and Nevada also ban cosmetic animal testing. Animal testing in biomedical research is standard practice for researchers across the globe.
Regulations and Laws
Specific regulations and laws pertaining to animal testing differ from country to country. A similarity among several countries is that they work to align with the 3 Rs (replacement, reduction, and refinement). That is to say that most laws, guidelines, and regulations encourage researchers to replace animal subjects with alternative models when applicable, reduce the number of animals being used for a study, and refine their methods to reduce suffering.
Should Animal Testing Be Banned?
Animal testing for cosmetic purposes has already been banned in several countries, but testing on animals in biomedical research is still largely standard practice. Given the ineffectiveness of animal testing, the financially wasteful nature of the practice, and the increase in alternative research options, the scientific community should seek to continuously reduce the number of animals used for research in alignment with the 3R’s.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
There are several alternatives to animal testing that researchers can employ in place of using animal subjects.
In Vitro Testing
In vitro testing is done outside of a living organism on cells, tissues, or organs. Research has suggested that in vitro testing may be more effective than animal testing at providing rapid, precise, and relevant results in certain cases.
Computer models have been shown to be as or more effective than animal models in some experimental circumstances.
Research Using Human Volunteers
Using human volunteers in the initial stages of research must be done with caution. There are a number of examples of communities being taken advantage of in medical research. Globalization of human-subject research has led to pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions recruiting volunteers from lower-income countries at an increasing rate. With this trend comes ethical concerns about whether the tested drugs and procedures will actually benefit the communities on which they are being tested, or if the researchers are taking advantage of these communities.
Human tissue can be donated via procedures such as biopsies, transplants, and cosmetic surgery for use in labs. Tissue can also be collected post-mortem for use in clinical trials.
Animal Testing Facts and Statistics
- Rodents make up 95 percent of animals needed for research in the United States, and they are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
- Rats enjoy being tickled, and there is a certification available for those interested in learning how to appropriately tickle rats.
- The use of nonrodent animals has been declining consistently since the 1980s.
How Can We Help Stop Animal Testing?
One of the best ways to stop animal testing for cosmetic purposes is to purchase cruelty-free products. These products have not been tested on animals and thus do not contribute to animal suffering in labs.
A bill recently introduced to Congress (HR 1744-Human Research and Testing Act of 2021) could be the first step in effectively reducing the number of animals suffering because of animal testing in the United States. Showing support for the bill by contacting legislators could help this bill succeed.
Animals have suffered for the sake of human invention for long enough. It is time that the scientific community began the process of phasing out animal testing. Using animals as subjects has proven repeatedly to be ineffective and financially wasteful. Every animal deserves better than a life spent in a lab suffering from a human-inflicted illness.
Grace is an avid writer and advocate with a passion for exploring animal rights from a social justice lens. She brings almost a decade of varied experience within the animal rights movement to her work as staff writer at Sentient Media.