Animal experimentation is the most secretive of all the industrialised uses of animals. It is estimated that worldwide, over 100 million animals are used in laboratories every year. We can only use estimates because so many countries don’t even bother to record and publish how many animals are used. In the US, rats and mice are excluded altogether.
Experiments are generally conducted in secret, protected by high security, and most experiments are never published. The pain and suffering these animals endure, is not exposed to public or wider scientific scrutiny. Proper independent scrutiny is needed, from experts who can advise on replacement methods, without the use of animals.
24 April is World Day for Laboratory Animals and an opportunity to put a spotlight on their suffering – and also, to press governments and regulators to ensure advanced, scientific non-animal methods are given priority over animal use. Regulators and the scientific community can move to these new approach methodologies (NAMs).
Animals are burnt, blinded, deliberately infected with disease, and force-fed products in experiments that can never be trusted because the fundamental flaw with animal use is the problem of species differences. Each species responds differently to substances, making results from animal tests unreliable when seeking potential effects in humans. For example, the breast cancer drug tamoxifen was designed as an oral contraceptive. It is in rats, but in women it has the opposite effect. It was then introduced to treat breast cancer, despite causing cancer in rats in some studies.
Some still claim animal experiments are essential to medical progress. However, our research indicates that not only are animal experiments misleading, they can also hold up progress. The introduction of blood transfusion was delayed over 200 years because of misleading results of animal experiments. Corneal transplants were delayed nearly 90 years by misleading animal tests.
We have shown that where there is a solid commitment from regulators and legislators, animal testing can be replaced. The EU set a deadline to replace cosmetics testing on animals. Opponents said it couldn’t be done, but the deadline drove forward the development and validation of advanced, non-animal alternatives. These are products used on the face, around the eyes and mouth, they may be used by an individual for many years and ingested on a regular basis. The EU cosmetics testing ban we fought so hard to secure, showed how these products can be safely produced without animal testing. Over 40 countries have banned cosmetics tests on animals.
Governments and regulators remain reluctant to overhaul archaic regulations requiring animal tests, which are more than half a century old.
In the UK over 4,000 experiments are performed on beagle dogs each year and in the US, almost 60,000. The UK government’s statistics reveal that more than two thirds (68%) were performed to fulfil international regulatory requirements – mainly testing for toxic effects. The figures are even more stark for rabbits and macaque monkeys (the most commonly used primates), respectively, 92% and 97% of these tests are to satisfy regulations. These are UK statistics, but it is reasonable to consider they reflect a global picture.
These outdated regulations mean animals are force fed products from weedkiller to new drugs, keeping the world locked into animal testing, despite the emergence of more advanced, scientific, precise and humane methods, more relevant to humans.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Legislators, governments and regulators can adopt policies to accelerate the use of new approach methodologies (NAMs).
To speed up the development of vaccines for the COVID pandemic, the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) cut requirements for efficacy tests on animals before proceeding to human clinical trials. An estimated million animals die in this type of test every year. Despite the ICMRA ruling, Oxford University tested the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in monkeys, and the results demonstrated exactly why these tests can be dropped. The vaccine failed to stop the virus in monkeys, but human trials were extended, and the vaccine has since been given to millions of people.
World Day for Laboratory Animals on 24 April provides a focus to draw attention to the suffering of the animals and show that advanced methods are better for science, for the public and the animals. Make your voice the voice for the animals, this special day. Remind politicians, legislators, regulators and governments around the world, that the public wants to see an end to the iniquity of animal testing and greater used of advanced techniques.
Governments and regulators can make a policy decision to implement use of non-animal, advanced scientific methods, known in science as ‘new approach methodologies’ (NAMs) before animal use is considered. Our task is to push for this!
Wherever you are, send a simple message to your elected representatives – tell them you want to see a commitment to end animal research and testing, and replacement with advanced non-animal methods.
Do it today.