Animal research has been around for more than 100 years. Since it began it has managed to use just about every species of animal known in every conceivable and horrific manner. It is the only area of modern science that clings to methods archaic and no longer necessary. From Latin, “vivisection” literally means to cut up a living thing. As an anti-vivisection society established some 118 years ago when vivisection was getting a foothold in the U.S., our line in the sand is: Until we end and replace the use of all animals we will not attain the scientific progress in methods or ethics that research needs to truly benefit human health.
The controversy about animal use is not as big as some would have us believe. The American public, for example, has expressed in surveys that animal research, if it is necessary, is an unfortunate evil. Surveys throughout the world show disapproval of the use of animals when it causes pain and suffering. And growing numbers of scientists now admit they know the limitations and dangers of animal models. Animal research is tolerated because we don’t want our grandparents dying from Alzheimer’s or our children suffering from leukemia. It is tolerated because we have been led to believe our only hope comes from the sacrificial altar of animal use. However, like other animal sacrifices on behalf of human well-being, animal research is not the answer. The debate stems more from how successfully lobbyists for the animal research industry propagate the myth that animal research is necessary to find preventions, treatments, and cures for human illnesses, rather than from a real and educated understanding of the science. However, this is all changing. Worldwide, the public is becoming far more sophisticated in understanding that a lot of the touted advantages, necessity, and reports of progress from animal use are made up of half-truths, exaggerations, and outright inaccuracies. For example, more than 9 out of 10 drugs that pass animal tests fail in human clinical trials. Many that do reach market are later withdrawn due to serious side effects or even death in humans. A big part of what keeps animal research alive is the propaganda machine for those industries that profit plenty from supplying animals and needed equipment, as well as from institutions who receive millions of dollars in animal research grants. Lobbyists and PR specialists for breeders and supply companies are erroneously defining “good science” for us, rather than allowing substantive facts to do so. Facts like, if you flipped a coin to guess how a human will respond to a certain drug or chemical, your prediction would be as accurate as if you tested it on a nonhuman animal. And most recently, that the highest scientific bodies in the U.S. declared even the chimpanzee – humanity’s closest genetic relative – is not needed in nearly all areas of current research (the only exception drew a split vote).
The industry continues to ignore sound scientific evidence and instead breeds millions of animals destined for labs. “Laboratory” beagles, for example, have been bred for generations to manifest a personality that is docile, gentle, and “easy to handle” with no resistance. We now have corporations worldwide breeding beagles as one of the species of choice for research, testing, and science education and training. They are the right size, the right temperament, and familiar to researchers who have used them in toxicity testing, combat wound training, heart research, cancer, and other areas. Yet, toxicity and other testing in dogs or any other animal has never been shown with any scientific rigor to actually be predictive of toxicity or anything else in humans.
Nonhuman species can never reliably predict what the effect of toxic substances, drugs, procedures, or other interventions on humans will be. This is in large part because while humans and other animals are similar on the gross anatomical level, we differ significantly at the cellular and molecular levels where disease occurs and medications act. Yet, animal research has become and remains a burgeoning and profitable business. Animal use is “guesswork” science at best that desperately, for their sake and ours, needs to be replaced by alternatives that can, do, and will deliver better and more humane science for all.
There is far better science than what is cruelly derived from the use of animals. Today, government health agencies and scientists are more openly acknowledging and accepting that solutions to cardiovascular disease, cancer, AIDS, and other human health problems lie not in animal-based methods, but in directly applicable human-based studies. For example, recognizing the inadequacy of animal toxicity testing has resulted in development of sophisticated and predictive in vitro techniques that show the effects of chemicals and other substances on humans more accurately than animal testing ever has or could. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health are currently evaluating new technologies in molecular, cellular, and computational sciences – which produce safer, more complete, and more relevant data – to supplement or replace traditional methods of toxicity testing. News of alternatives to harmful animal use reaches our desks every day – renewing our faith in what science can and will do once it sets its priorities straight. Below are links to help you better understand the science of “alternative” research methods, which holds the promise to one day soon be the status quo, gold standard of good research, testing, and science education.