During the weekend the US Department of Agriculture started to scrub its website of animal testing reports. These reports detailed the conditions animals were held in, in what labs and more. Many of those reports showed labs that do not uphold the minimum requirements for animal well being. Effectively all transparency is now lost and scientists can do whatever they like without having to worry about public scrutiny.
Scientists will defend to the death using animals in drug testing or for science experiments. They really really need those animals to find discoveries that will help us humans. They will also tell you about the regulations they have to comply with and the oversight they have to agree to. In reality – explaining the use of 10 more mice than necessary or paying off a commissioner isn’t that hard.
But to really get what this development means, you have to understand animal testing. I will break it down into 2 main categories: pharmaceuticals and science in general.
Animal Testing in Pharmaceuticals
A lot has been said about big pharma. They do a lot of good and help people through everything from headaches to staying alive. But don’t be mistaken, this is a ruthless business with billions at stake. As such, their tactics have been called into question many times. Seriously, this industry has more scandals than tobacco.
So, where does animal testing fit into this story?
The first steps when testing a new drug are always in animals. This is called the “pre-clinical” phase and it can take years. During this time the drug is tested on lab animals in order to prove efficacy and safety. Initially other methods may be used, but as the trials progress the drug will have to be tested on animals. For short term studies – mice and rats. For long term studies – dogs, usually Beagles. Sometimes monkeys are also involved (FDA site). Right now, animal testing is the only acceptable way to prove efficacy and safety in whole organisms before moving to human trials.
Problem is, a lot of times these animal trials have no meaning. Because as much as mammals have in common, a lot of things are different. Dogs metabolise things differently from cats. A drug that is 100% safe in mice can be toxic in humans. This happens ALL THE TIME but the science community and regulatory bodies just go on, making no changes, not looking for other options. This is due to many reasons but mostly – time, money, and interest.
But I would argue, that if only 1:10 drugs are being approved nowadays, doesn’t it cost more to develop a drug that fails? Wouldn’t it be better for companies to invest in methods that actually work?
Cell cultures, in vitro testing, computer models and biomarkers are all methods that can be developed into being better, safer and less life wasting options.
Animal Testing in Science
Science is where I put everything else that isn’t drug testing and is the field I criticise most. Even though many of these tests a performed for medical developments, they have more ethical issues.
Just last week scientists were happy to announce a lab grew a human-pig hybrid. The reason for this experiment – growing pigs with human organs. Arguably a noble cause. Humans in need of transplants won’t have to wait for a heart anymore – just take one from a pig. Whole farms serving as organ incubators for humans. This isn’t just wrong morally, it’s also scary to think of what will come next.
And that’s just the latest breakthrough. Other examples include researchers in psychology covering a female monkey’s nipples so her baby couldn’t suckle and measure their distress. Or slowly heating mice’s legs until they start screaming to measure neuron pathways and functions.
These experiments are terrible. They might serve a purpose for humans in the future but at what cost?
Scientists believe they’re doing good. That they’re helping people. That they also have a hard time seeing their animals suffer but it’s for the better good. And you know what, it might be. Some of these experiments gave us progress and cures to deathly diseases. But I side-eye these statements because please, it also has a lot to do with pride and ego. And if they felt that bad about the animals they probably would have found another way.
To be fair I don’t think most are evil, I just think they have become desensitized.
What can we do
If you’re in the USA contact anyone relevant to tell them how bad the Agriculture Department’s decision was.
Support groups such as Beagle Freedom Project and Cruelty Free Intl. who fight for lab animals.
Educate yourself and research alternative testing methods so you can argue the fact to others.
Donate, sign petitions, protest or do whatever you are comfortable with to make sure this ends.
Where do you stand on this?
Let me know in the comments or SM.