In toxicology tests non-human primates (NHPs) are selected as most suited to studies of neurology, behavior, reproduction, genetics and xenotransplantation (Wikipedia describes this as ‘the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another’). They are also used in Aids tests. They are mainly purpose bred in USA, China and Europe but they are also caught in the wild or even gathered from zoos and circuses. There is great demand for them in laboratories as they are considered as being central to vaccine development and also Deep Brain Stimulation tests.
“Animal testing precedes human trials, but if we do not know whether the animal testing is relevant to the problem in humans, it will lose even minimal predictive value… the continued use of broad spectrum multi-strain /multi-species testing vividly shows that researchers do not actually know which laboratory results can be legitimately applied to humans”. Hugh LaFollette and Niall Shanks, Brute Science (London: Routledge, 1996) p 27
We have been responsible for using animals in our enquiry into physiological function and for our experiments in seeking a cure for abnormalities. This has been since the earliest known test of the Romans and Greeks in the second and fourth century respectively. Those such as Galen were known not only for their herbal remedies and also for their early experiments on animals. There is little known of these activities in the following centuries when there were no doubt severe religious ethics in place to ban such work.
However, the use and abuse of animals in the name of science has continued to emerge as a regular and increasingly accepted medical necessity in the 19th and 20th centuries. We have suffered a certain indoctrination that the sacrifice of animals will result in our good health and freedom of disease. Unfortunately we are not guaranteed good health and still humanity suffers disease and even new diseases.
More people began to turn against the methods for ethical reasons. It was not until the early 19th century however that the first animal protection law was enacted – in the British parliament. About fifty years later the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed to regulate animal testing specifically. Charles Darwin promoted the law and his sentiments are obvious in a letter written to Ray Lankester in 1871… “You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it else I shall not sleep tonight.”
Anti-vivisection posters in public places abounded before mid 1900’s with many organizations attempting to awaken public opinion as to the cruelty associated with medical experimentation. Many including Rukminii Devi were influential in working to abolish the practice in Australia and in India. Many supporters now exist from those early efforts of philanthropists who believed in human dignity and the need to respect all living creatures. These activists urged scientists to explore other avenues to find the secrets of health and find natural remedies for disease.
The introductory statement of Lafollette and Shanks is shared by many prominent doctors, scientists and researchers who are not only voicing an opinion regarding a need for change, but presenting facts that demonstrate inefficient and even illogical animal testing really is.
Two strikes already are against those who continue this work, even when motivated by interest in health if methods prove to be unscientific. One being the extent of cruelty to helpless animals absconded against their will, to suffer in medical laboratories. Second, that the methods fail to prove sufficient results in curing disease and more importantly, improving the health of the people.
Animal lovers are dismayed and enraged to hear of the many thousands of animals that are shunted into the experimental channels, be it dogs, cats, horses, pigs or monkeys. Scientists argue that it is not cruel to do what they perform upon these animals used as ‘guinea pigs’, if it allows them the skill to relieve human disease. But animals are not volunteers.
Beyond medical purposes there are many other avenues where animals are ‘used’ or abused. Our technological age and creative inventions require testing in all areas where the effect upon human beings has to be determined. With the explosion of interest in chemical science and in all the areas of drugs as medication, along with totally new technologies that are employed in surgical procedures there is need for testing before release into the community.
Animals have been used and continue to be used in every branch of our curiosity and in our investigation into life and our perceived ‘requirements’ for living. Not only are tests seen as imperative in foods, food additives, cosmetics, medicine, surgery and transplants, radiation, genetics, X rays, chemistry, but also in animal husbandry, agriculture and industry. The newer branches of science such as xenotransplantation and cell science extend the sphere considerably.
The wide use and potential abuse of animals in the name of science has grown beyond any average person’s imagination. Few facts are reported through our news channels as being serious issues deserving attention. All too frequently animal rights and the persistence of activists is seen as an embarrassment. Name calling is a tactic used to cast people who are concerned with animal cruelty to be ‘fanatics’, ‘greenies’ or grouped along with ‘tree huggers’ instead of just being truthfully seen as kind animal lovers.
It is a worldwide problem throughout many nations, each with differing applications and customs relating to treatment of animals in general, and laboratory animals in particular. There are signs of great improvement in international efforts to standardize practices and make some gesture towards ‘humane’ action. Under increasing public pressure it is hoped that we will see great changes in our attitude towards all animals in the coming decades.
Many statistics in various countries are unreliable or difficult to obtain but those that are available speak for themselves of the enormity of the problem worldwide.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics are in agreement of the fact that -100 million vertebrates are used in medical experiments throughout the world each year. The number of invertebrates is not known. About 10 million occur in the European Union.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that in 2005 1.2 million animals were used. This excludes and unknown number of invertebrates, rats, mice and birds.The Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group uses the USDA’s figures to estimate that 23-25 million vertebrate animals and primates are used in research each year in America.
In 1986, the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment states that reports coming in are variable regarding the numbers of animals used in the U.S. Reports range from 10 million to over 100 million each year. Their own given estimate is closer to 17-22 million, excluding the rats and mice estimated at 15-20 million a year. Guinea pigs, hamsters and other animals are also used.
Regarding the choice of animals used… Cats are favoured in neurological research. According to the Human Society of the United States 25,000 cats in the year 2000 were used in tests that involved “pain and/or distress”. Dogs such as beagles are selected in tests that are highly invasive because of their docility. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Report for 2004 states 65,000 dogs were used in their registered facilities that year.
The United Kingdom figures from the Home Office in 2004 offers comparative statistics and is similar in regard to animals but includes 20,000 rabbits, about 200,000 fish and 20,000 amphibians having been used in the UK in that single year.
It is generally believed that most animals are used in a single procedure that might be brief and last minutes, months or sometimes years. The fate of such animals is to die because of the experiment or to be deliberately euthanized following usefulness in that test. One animal dies in a laboratory in the USA every second, in Japan every two seconds and in the UK every twelve seconds. They are not generally referred to as animals but as ‘products’.
Australian statistics taken from Australian Association for Humane Research tell us..that the total number of animals used for research and teaching in 2004 was a staggering 6,489,005 living creatures used in experimentation in laboratories…. a figure that represents….. 580,550 mice, 154,692 rats, 14,161 guinea pigs, 6,911 rabbits, 2,149 cats, 7,179 dogs, 316,271 sheep, 32,203 cows, 94,692 pigs, 6,576 horses and donkeys, 204,259 native mammals, 328 primates, with fowl, fish and reptiles and ‘others’ completing the numbers.
In Melbourne, Australia, Monash University offers an example of the ‘services’ available for obtaining laboratory animals through their Monash Animal Service. Procurement from local and international sources is all too easy whether it is cats, guinea pigs, cane toads, rabbits, sheep, non human primates and many exotic species of animal. They also possess their own Rodent Breeding Facility.
ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL SACRIFICE
There are alternative methods that do not require animal testing. Today, many cosmetic and household product companies have turned their backs on animal testing and begun taking advantage of the many sophisticated non-animal test methods available, which range from cell and tissue cultures to computerised “structure-activity relationship” models. Human cell culture tests have been found to predict toxicity in humans with much greater accuracy than animal tests.
In Australia, with the initiative of those dedicated to advancing science without being dependent upon the cruel acts inflicted upon animals in laboratory research methods, the Medical Advances Without Animals (MAWA) was founded in 2000 as a registered charity now based in Canberra. Cofounders are Ms Elizabeth Ahiston and Associate Professor Garry Scroop. Their policies offer a new direction for medical and general scientific research by discarding outworn and inefficient procedures and the employment of replacement techniques using cell science, human gene studies, analytical technology, micro-organisms, computer models, and every appropriate method within the ethics of classical science. The philosophy behind this organization is attracting wide interest as it does not limit its support but encourages a broad range of disciplines and invites co-operation from scientists who support the aims of the MAWA.
At last we witness that the many voices that cried out against vivisection are now heard. Darwin’s response to degradation of science to mere curiosity is now a common one that has brought about deliberate efforts to create a new direction for a modern system of medicine that can be respected as a humane branch of the many healing systems that exist.
Successful alternatives to the use and abuse of animals will in time make the old and cruel customs obsolete and offer a happier future for our fellow creatures. We need to succeed in our effort to redress attitudes that have allowed many millions of animals’ lives to have been sacrificed. And then, as humans we may be able to hold up our heads, knowing we are indeed becoming humane.