On animal research

As I was wandering aimlessly around Newcastle town centre today, I heard a couple of older women talking. The only snippet of conversation I made out was something along the lines of “it’s terrible all this research they do on animals these days”. This really made me think, because as a (I hope) scientifically literate individual, my initial reaction was “pfffft clearly they don’t know a thing about animal research”. Then I paused for a second and remembered that as a teenager (not that many years ago), I was against animal research. (It is worth noting here that as a teenager I also wanted to become a member of Greenpeace and attended all the anti-war protests I could; all at a time of my life where I genuinely thought it was “cool” to go to Edinburgh for the day dressed in my pyjamas armed with vodka in a Tango bottle and 10 Lambert & Butler). Anyway, I digress. The point I’m making here is that all too often we assume that “most people” are like us, and have similar views and attitudes to us. But they don’t. And with a topic as controversial as animal research, I can completely understand why people have such strong and opposing views. So for what it’s worth, and as someone who has gone from one extreme view to another, here is my primer on animal research.

Why are people anti-animal research?

I believe the main reason that so many people are violently against animal research is due to a highly emotive subject paired with a lack of knowledge and education: This certainly was the case with my 15-year-old hippie-wannabe self. It seemed obvious to me that you could not simultaneously be an “animal lover” and pro-animal research. But I now realise that is utter nonsense. But that’s not what animal rights extremist groups would have you believe. They like to bombard the public with pictures like this:

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Yes, this is a horrible image. But it is also a very old image and if you look hard enough I’m sure you’ll find other horrifying images of human behaviour from this era, like torturing fellow humans because of their religion or sexual orientation. My point is that you cannot judge current issues on what you think you know about the past. We learn from our mistakes, science advances, we move on. Don’t let stock shock and very often manipulated images like this make your mind up for you.

The truth about animal research

Have you ever been prescribed antibiotics? Are you up to date with your vaccinations? Do you know anyone who receives medicine for athsma, diabetes or high blood pressure? Guess what – we received these treatments thanks to years of research on animals. The fact is that without animal research, we would not have the life-saving medicines we have today. Therefore when people say “there is no clear benefit to humans from using animals in research”, you can tell them that they are wrong.

Despite what horror stories you may have heard or shocking stock animal rights images you may have seen, animal research is and must be carefully regulated. Three separate licences are required in order for any animal research to be carried out: a personal licence for the researcher, a project licence for the study, and a licence for the place where the research is done. In reality, due to extremely high standards and regulations, most lab animals are likely to enjoy a higher standard of welfare and care than your average household pet. According to a publication by the organisation Understanding Animal Research:

“Government vets and doctors make regular, and often unannounced, visits to make sure that the animals are being properly looked after. On their recommendation, licences can be removed and facilities closed down if rules are broken. Almost without exception, animals are specially bred for research and testing. Many studies cause little suffering. Typically, trained researchers give doses of a potential medicine, take small blood samples or scan the animal to check painlessly inside its body. Technologists and vets are on hand to look for the smallest signs of pain or distress.”

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The three Rs

The three Rs refers to three techniques that are required by law to be used instead of animal research, unless it is completely necessary. These are replacement, refinement and reduction.

Replacement  techniques are those which result in the replacement of animals in research with other models, such as computer models. I often hear people saying “why do we still need animal research when we have computer models? In truth, although advances in science and technology mean that animals are now used in fewer situations, some animal research is still essential for medical progress.

Refinement refers to the welfare of any animals being used in research. This is important not only from the perspective of our moral duty to minimise any pain or suffering to an individual animal, but also for the research itself: Animals who are not distressed and live longer lives lead to much more reliable and worthwhile data.

Reduction means using as few individual animals as possible in a given study. This can be achieved by good experimental design and statistical analysis.

So remember that by law, scientists are only allowed to carry out research on animals if all of the above guidelines have been met. Permission will not be granted if animals are not essential to the research, if their welfare is not of a good standard, and there are checks on how many animals can be used.

Final thoughts

One of the key arguments used by animal rights extremists is that the scientific community is being secretive, because they have something to hide, like animal research is their dirty little secret. This is not true; plenty of scientists who use animal models talk about their work, they publish journals and speak at conferences. The reason they may not do so much public engagement with those outside their field is because of the ever-lurking menace of animal rights extremists. This is a bigger problem in the USA than it is here in the UK, but it is still a very real threat. If your family is being threatened because of the work you do in the lab, would you want to talk openly and publicly about it? Thankfully, public support for animal research is increasing, and this is a Good Thing for everyone. If scientists were able to do their work without fear of backlash from animal rights groups, we would ultimately see  an improvement both in the welfare of the research animals (for example, some UK universities have animals which would benefit from outdoor enclosures but their visibility as lab animals would make them a vulnerable target) and in the scientific progress being made.

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18 thoughts on “On animal research

  1. ChrisB says:

    Good points, and it’s hard to argue against the need for animal testing in some medical research, and the activities of the animal rights extremists have done more harm than good to their cause. But. I fear you are overly optimistic that big business wouldn’t go back to their old ways if the scrutiny and pressure were dropped. And I can’t think of any good justifications for animal testing of cosmetics… (does that still go on?)

    • pygmylorisreid says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for commenting. I deliberately did not touch on the issues of the potential corruption of big business (however I feel that even without pressure groups like peta, the strict guidelines would still remain in place) and as for animal testing on cosmetics, this is something I have little knowledge on and therefore didn’t go into it. The post was really just a primer to what I see to be the reality of animal research in scientific (medical) research. But you are right, those are issues that we should be aware of and should be open to discussion.

  2. Tom says:

    Brilliant piece. It is important to note that the the reason for the 3Rs isn’t just external pressures to adhere to animal welfare, but that healthy, happy animals provide better results (because stress, like in humans, can alter the way out bodies work).

    You may care to check out the wordpress blog – http://www.speakingofresearch.com

    • pygmylorisreid says:

      Thanks for commenting, Tom! Absolutely, people often don’t realise that these measures are in the interests of everyone involved.

  3. staceyav says:

    Animals have also benefited from such research. Vaccines and other medication are used on animals as well, which also has a knock-on effect for conservation programs as animals are able to be kept alive and healthy. Of course, it somewhat pales in comparison to the impact animal research has made on humans, but veterinary medicine has advanced greatly nevertheless.

    • Deb says:

      not even humans benefit from vaccines…… !!! please !!!

      • staceyav says:

        Let’s see…measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, polio, diphtheria and meningitis C are but some of the diseases that are preventable by vaccination. Many of these diseases (particularly measles, mumps and rubella) are creeping back from the point of total eradication in western society because of people believing that they have no medical benefit or are harmful, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.

      • Deb says:

        Well, where is the evidence ?? because the evidence that I have seen shows that all the diseases naturally decreased both where there were vaccinations AND where they weren’t … the only that benefited from that were the pharmaceuticals that were selling the vaccinations and the politicians that received their “gratefulness” to make vaccinations compulsory, together with the mass media that brainwashed people like you, unless you are part of one of the three mentioned categories ….. why don’t you ask yourself why they always spend millions of dollars to “cure” cancer torturing millions of animals uselessly, instead of trying to prevent ???

  4. F**** says:

    I think it’s enough.

  5. Valerie Traina says:

    Are you a researcher? Or have you simply drunk the Kool-Aid? If you think so highly of researchers and their protocols, you should offer your body to science, as should all others who think like you. How wonderful to be stuck in a cage, deprived of freedom. How wonderful to be stuck with all sorts of instruments. How wonderful to be beheaded at the end of the experiment. And, pretty much any researcher gets funded for any scheme s/he comes up with, no matter how many times it’s been done before. You are a cold-blooded individual. I am very glad I don’t know you personally. It’s people like you that make this planet an increasingly barbaric place in which to live.

    • staceyav says:

      You clearly did not read the post in its entirety. Would you not accept that perhaps it is you who has ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ of animal rights groups? Groups of which some *cough* PeTA *cough* want nothing more than to be the beneficiaries of your surplus money in order to impose their views on the rest of society. Where is the UNBIASED evidence that animals are treated with barbaric cruelty in MODERN research? I expect (as PygmyLoris pointed out) that you have been vaccinated or had some form of medical treatment at some point in your life, in which case, what gives you the right to call someone (that you do not even know!) a ‘cold-blooded individual’, considering you have benefited from animal research? It’s akin to eating meat whilst complaining about the methods of animal slaughter.

      • Valerie Traina says:

        Well, I have read a great deal on the subject of vivisection – books, not pamphlets. So, do not accuse me of simply following what PETA says. I think for myself, thank you. The most important issue to me is that a nonconsenting individual is deprived of his/her freedom, even if nothing other than being caged is inflicted upon him/her. But, I have seen undercover video footage of horrific brain implants into the skulls of cats. I’ve seen how infant primates are taken from their mothers to test how well they do without them. That is sick. That is evil. I don’t need any other reason to oppose this so-called research. But, add to that the fact that most animal research does not add any benefit to humans, and all you have is a huge money-making enterprise. The medical industrial complex. Disgusting. You should offer your body to science since you feel this is such a great endeavor. We’d be so much further along had we used humans as test subjects. Let’s start with the scientists.

      • Deb says:

        again, despite what they want people to believe (and they succeed very well with you), humans (the ones that don’t possess a pharmaceutical company) NEVER benefited from animal torturing but they had more troubles instead. You just need some little commons sense to understand that it is stupid to look for cures for human diseases in MICE …… do you know why they use mice ? because they are small and cheap, as they also admit… very scientific, isn’t it ??

  6. Deb says:

    it is tragically funny how people are incredibly brainwashed by their secular propaganda…. the fact alone that in 92% of the cases the results on animals are different from the results on humans, should be enough to stop this cruel practice and replace it with something more reliable, like throwing a coin and see if it’s head … at least that gives a 50 / 50 ….. people, please, wake up… they just need it because it allows them to sell everything !! PLEASE WAKE UP !!

  7. tino says:

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Unfortunately, the case of non-human animals in laboratories is a case of victims without voices. They cannot gather petitions, testify in court, explain the cruelty they endure, participate in acts of civil disobedience, or otherwise campaign for their own rights. The entire effort must be carried out by humans.
    Though the moral justification behind it is flawed, animal experimentation goes on. Tens of millions of animals are killed each year in experiments, and countless more are forced to continue to live as nothing more than objects of research in laboratory cages. We cannot allow vivisection to continue; we cannot deny animals the basic rights that any innocent, conscious being deserves: freedom from exploitation, purposefully inflicted suffering, and captivity.

    Your lies will not work.
    The public believe that vivisection is needed to find cures for cancer and illnesses. But this is not true. Vivisection has only found ways of causing cancers but it has not found ways to cure them and will never find one.

  8. Maggie Bailey says:

    How can you justify performing experiments on other living, sentient creatutes without their consent? It is completely unethical, as you used to realise yourself before you became corrupted! Deep down, you still know what an atrocity it is, don’t you? You are just trying to convince yourself, and others, of the opposite. You know how badly animals suffer in labs each year, and the countless number that die needlessly and horrifically. Re-orient your moral compass and stop trying to justify these appalling practices.

  9. The failure of animal research is evident. Antibiotics, drugs etc. have allowed more people to live and breed than is naturally acceptable. This is responsible for the severe human overpopulation causing suffering to the Earth. Moreover, nowadays we are gaining new evidence that our reliance on drugs and medications is responsible for the present sick population. Yes, men and women nowadays really are sick. Most have some or other ailment.
    Why should an animal be confined, removed from its natural habitat, tortured to find medicines for humans? Humans are in no way special. And if some animal testers are so keen to know new things they can always test on themselves and their family! Why don’t they do so?

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