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Animal Experimentation: Point Counterpoint
PETA
06-03-2007


Animal experimenters want us to believe that if they gave up their archaic habit, children and other disease and accident victims would drop dead in droves. However, the most significant trend in modern research in recent years has been the recognition that animals rarely serve as good models for the human body. Studies have shown time and again that animal experimenters are often wasting lives—both animal and human—and precious resources by trying to infect animals with diseases that they would never normally contract. Fortunately, a wealth of cutting-edge, non-animal research methodologies promises a brighter future for both animal and human health. The following are some statements supporting animal experimentation followed by the arguments against them.

  • "Every major medical advance is attributable to experiments on animals."
  • "If we didn't use animals, we'd have to test new drugs on people."
  • "We have to observe the complex interactions of cells, tissues, and organs in living animals."
  • "Animals help in the fight against cancer."
  • "Science has a responsibility to use animals to keep looking for cures for all the horrible diseases that people suffer from."
  • "Many experiments are not painful to animals and are therefore justified."
  • "We don't want to use animals, but we don't have any other options."
  • "Don't medical students have to dissect animals?"
  • "Animals are here for humans to use. If we have to sacrifice 1,000 or 100,000 animals in the hope of benefiting one child, it's worth it."

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"Every major medical advance is attributable to experiments on animals."

Not true! Many of the most important advances in health are attributable to human studies, including the discovery of the relationships between cholesterol and heart disease and smoking and cancer; the development of X-rays; and the isolation of the AIDS virus. Too often, reliance on animal tests has proved to be dangerous or misleading. For decades, and up to this day, animal experimenters have been testing cigarettes and their components on animals. They have forced primates, dogs, rabbits, and rats to breathe concentrated cigarette smoke to determine what its effects are. However, after all these decades of research, their results continue to be "inconclusive" because some species suffer negative effects while others do not experience any health problems.

Between 1900 and 2000, life expectancy in the United States increased from 47 to 77 years. Although animal experimenters take credit for the greatly improved life expectancy rate, medical historians report that improved nutrition, sanitation, and other behavioral and environmental factors—rather than anything learned from animal experiments—are responsible for the fact that people are living longer lives.

In February 2004, researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and several British universities published a paper in the British Medical Journal titled "Where Is the Evidence That Animal Research Benefits Humans?" The researchers systematically examined animal studies and concluded that little evidence exists to support the idea that animal experimentation has benefited humans.

"If we didn't use animals, we'd have to test new drugs on people."

The fact is that we already do test new drugs on people, but because animal tests are so unreliable, they make those human trials all the more risky. In August 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that only 8 percent of all drugs that pass animal tests make it to the human market. This means that of all drugs that are found to be safe and effective in animals, a whopping 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans. Vioxx, Phenactin, E-Ferol, Oraflex, Zomax, Suprol, and Selacryn are some of the drugs that had to be pulled from the market in recent years because they killed or seriously harmed thousands of people. Despite rigorous animal tests, prescription drugs kill 100,000 people each year, making them our nation's fourth-biggest killer.

"We have to observe the complex interactions of cells, tissues, and organs in living animals."

Taking a healthy being from a completely different species, artificially inducing a condition, keeping him or her in an unnatural and stressed condition, and trying to apply the "results" to naturally occurring diseases in human beings is dubious at best. Animals in laboratories typically display behaviors indicating extreme psychological distress, and experimenters acknowledge that the use of these stressed-out animals jeopardizes the validity of the data produced. Even humans living in cages in labs would not be suitable models for human disease processes occurring in the real world.

Furthermore, physiological reactions to drugs vary enormously from species to species. Penicillin kills guinea pigs despite being inactive in rabbits; aspirin kills cats and causes birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys; and morphine, a depressant in humans, stimulates goats, cats, and horses. Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, remarked, "How fortunate we didn't have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably have never been granted a license, and probably the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized."

Studies have found that chemicals that cause cancer in rats only caused cancer in mice 46 percent of the time—that's about the same as flipping a coin. If extrapolating from rats to mice is so problematic, how can we extrapolate results from mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, monkeys, and other animals to humans?

"Animals help in the fight against cancer."

Since President Richard Nixon signed the Conquest of Cancer Act in 1971, the "war on cancer" in the United States has become a series of losing battles. Through taxes, donations, and private funding, Americans have spent almost $200 billion on cancer research since 1971. However, more than 500,000 Americans die of cancer every year, a 73 percent increase in the death rate since the "war" began.

Richard Klausner, former head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has observed, "The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn't work in humans." The NCI now uses human cancer cells, taken by biopsy during surgery, to perform first-stage testing for new anti-cancer drugs, sparing the 1 million mice the agency previously used annually and giving us all a much better shot at combating cancer.

Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, cancer is largely preventable, yet most cancer-focused health organizations spend a pittance on prevention programs, such as public education. The NCI, for example, spends less than one-quarter of 1 percent of its budget on prevention. Epidemiological and clinical studies have determined that most cancers are caused by smoking and by eating high-fat foods, foods high in animal protein, and foods containing artificial colors and other harmful additives. We can beat cancer by attending to this human-derived, human-relevant data and implementing creative methods to encourage healthier lifestyle choices.

"Science has a responsibility to use animals to keep looking for cures for all the horrible diseases that people suffer from."

Every year in the United States, animal research gobbles up billions of dollars, and more than $1 trillion is spent on health care. However, among the world's eight richest countries, the United States ranks lowest in life expectancy and highest in infant mortality. While rates of heart disease and strokes have shown slight declines recently—because of lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking rather than any medical advances—cancer rates continue to rise, while alcohol- and drug-treatment centers, prenatal care programs, community mental health clinics, and trauma units continue to suffer closures because they lack sufficient funds.

More human lives could be saved and more suffering could be spared by educating people about the importance of avoiding fat and cholesterol, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol and other drug consumption, exercising regularly, and cleaning up their environment than by all the animal tests in the world.

"Many experiments are not painful to animals and are therefore justified."

An honest view of the situation should take into account the totality of the suffering imposed on the animal, including the stress of capture, transportation, and handling; the housing in confined and unnatural conditions; the deprivations that constitute standard training procedures; and the physical and psychological stress experienced by animals used for breeding, who suffer through cycles of impregnation only to have their young torn away from them, sometimes shortly after birth.

Animals in laboratories endure lives of deprivation, isolation, stress, trauma, and depression even before they are enrolled in any sort of protocol. This fact is especially apparent when one considers the specialized needs of each species. In nature, many primates, including rhesus macaques and baboons, stay for many years or for life with their families and troops. They spend hours together every day, grooming each other, foraging, playing, and making nests for sleeping each night. But in laboratories, primates are often caged alone. Laboratories typically do not provide social interactions or family groups, companions, grooming possibilities, nests, or surfaces softer than metal.

Indeed, in many laboratories, animals are handled roughly—even for routine monitoring procedures that fall outside the realm of an experimental protocol—and this only heightens the animals' fear and stress. Video footage from inside laboratories shows that many animals cower in fear every time someone walks by their cages. A 2004 article in Nature magazine indicated that mice housed in standard laboratory cages suffer from "impaired brain development, abnormal repetitive behaviours (stereotypies) and an anxious behavioural profile." This appalling level of suffering results simply from standard housing conditions—before the animal undergoes any sort of procedure. A November 2004 article in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science examines 80 papers to document the potential stress associated with three routine laboratory procedures commonly performed on animals. The authors conclude, "Routine handling, venipuncture, and orogastric gavage lead to elevations of heart rate, blood pressure, and glucocorticoid concentrations that persist for 30 to 60 [minutes] following the event, suggesting that despite their routine use in laboratory studies, these procedures are acutely stressful for animals."

"We don't want to use animals, but we don't have any other options."

Human clinical and epidemiological studies, cadavers, and computer simulators are more reliable, more precise, less expensive, and more humane than animal tests. Creative scientists have used human brain cells to develop a model "microbrain," which can be used to study tumors, as well as artificial skin and bone marrow. We can now test irritancy on protein membranes, produce vaccines from human tissues, and perform pregnancy tests using blood samples instead of killing rabbits.

TOPKAT, a sophisticated software package that allows researchers to predict the degree of skin and eye irritation and the oral toxicity of chemicals, is currently being used by the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA, the U.S. Army, 3M Corporation, and Philip Morris, sparing countless animals the agony of having substances dripped into their eyes, rubbed into their shaved, abraded skin, or pumped into their stomachs and lungs. The U.S. Department of Transportation stopped using animals to test corrosive substances after PETA persuaded it to adopt a replacement test. Now, instead of smearing animals' backs with corrosive chemicals, the Department of Transportation uses Corrositex, in which substances are placed on a protein membrane.

"Don't medical students have to dissect animals?"

In Great Britain, it's against the law for medical (and veterinary) students to practice surgery on animals, and British physicians are just as competent as those educated elsewhere. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other U.S. medical schools have dropped animal laboratories in favor of hands-on practice on human patients under the direction of experienced physicians.

"Animals are here for humans to use. If we have to sacrifice 1,000 or 100,000 animals in the hope of benefiting one child, it's worth it."

If experimenting on one mentally retarded person could benefit 1,000 children, would we do it? Of course not! Ethics dictate that the value of each life in and of itself cannot be superseded by its potential value to anyone else.

Experimenters claim a "right" to inflict pain on animals based on animals' supposed lack of reason. But if lack of reason truly justified animal experimentation, experimenting on human beings with "inferior" mental capabilities, such as infants and the mentally retarded, would also be acceptable. The argument also ignores the reasoning ability of many animals, including pigs, who demonstrate measurably sophisticated approaches to solving problems, and some primates, who not only use tools but also teach their offspring how to use them.

The experimenters' real argument is: "Animals are ours to use because might makes right, and we want to use them."

Recommended Reading

  • Animal Experimentation: The Consensus Changes, edited by Gill Langley, Ph.D., Chapman and Hall, 1990
  • Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Harper Perennial, 2001
  • The Cruel Deception by Dr. Robert Sharpe, Thorsuns Publishing Group, 1988
  • Lethal Laws by Alix Fano, Zed Books, 1997
  • Of Mice, Models, and Men: A Critical Evaluation of Animal Research by Andrew Rowan, State University of New York Press, 1984
  • Sacred Cows and Golden Geese by C. Ray Greek, M.D., and Jean Swingle Greek, D.V.M., Continuum, 2000
  • Victims of Science by Richard Ryder, Open Gate Press, 1983

Web Sites

PCRM.org (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)
CureDisease.com (Americans for Medical Advancement)
MRMCMed.org (Medical Research Modernization Committee


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