What is Vivisection?
The word “vivisection” literally means the cutting up of live animals for the purpose of making physiological or pathological investigations, although the definition has been broadened to incorporate any invasive procedure conducted on a live animal.
Animals have been used and abused for the “benefit” of humans for thousands of years, but it was only towards the end of the 19th century that the use of animals, in medical research particularly, became popular with the scientific community and some relics of this barbaric era are still in use today. The LD50 test, in which 50% of the test subjects are required to die in order to find the toxicity level of a substance, was developed in 1927 and is still in use today, despite its unreliable results.
While many countries, including South Africa, do not keep official statistics of the numbers of animals used in research, in a recent world survey it is estimated that approximately 115 million animals are used in laboratory experiments each year, worldwide, although the number is probably higher. It is estimate 100 000 animals are used in South Africa very year.
While many people still incorrectly associate animal tests only with the cosmetic industry, or with medical experiments; in truth, animal experimentation touches all aspects of our lives. Animals are used in tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse studies, the manufacture of commercial products - such as household cleaners, the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, toxicological studies, education and in many other ways. Animals are scalded, burnt, drowned, electrocuted, poisoned and killed, all in the name of science and often without the benefit of anaesthesia or analgesics.
Why do companies and institutions test on animals?
Animal testing is often defended and justified as a means to test the safety and efficacy of products for human use. In some cases products are tested for safety to meet legal requirements to identify potential hazards to humans.
Regulated, and non-regulated products products are often tested on animals in order determine the level of toxicity of the product and what it’s effect would be on humans. This is also used as a means for companies to legally defend themselves when they are sued by injured consumers. In many cases, out of court settlements are made in order avoid publicity and to to avoid bringing animal testing practices to light.
Pharmaceutical companies test on animals in order to research drugs that could be potentially useful to humans. However animal testing models can be misleading, and results cannot be directly extrapolated to humans. A recent report comprised of 20 leading ethicists and scientists concluded that animal experiments are both morally and scientifically flawed.
The ‘normalisation of the unthinkable’Read the Press Release from Centre’s Report on the Ethics of Animal Experiments.
Failure of the principles of the 3Rs
Companies and institutions try to justify testing on animals using The principles of the 3Rs . This stands for Replacement, Reduction and Refinement which unfortunately has not been effective.
A study at 250 randomly selected papers from key science journals reporting the use of nonhuman primates or mice in medical experiments showed that, despite apparent increases in references to animal research legislation and codes of practice, there was little increase in the reporting of the specific implementation of the 3Rs between the years 1986 and 2006.
See Report:Read the Press Release from Centre’s Report on the Ethics of Animal Experiments.
Companies will often make the following flawed claims.
Claims of minimising pain & suffering
Companies who test on animals claim they try to minimise pain and distress as much as possible. While the intention seems good on the surface this claim is mostly used as a PR decoy as the pain and suffering they cause to animals is inevitable. This is especially true of standardised toxicology tests used by the cosmetic industry such (Draize eye tests, LD50), or invasive medical tests when injuries are purposefully inflicted on animals.
Claims of reducing animal use
Almost all companies will claim they try to use alternative methods where possible they try to reduce the amount of animals they use.
Unfortunately the data does not back up these claims. As of July 2009, Britian (and the world in general) are using more animals than ever before. Ironically this spike in animal experimentation coincides with the 50th anniversary of the original proposals to find alternatives. For 1/2 a century, successive UK governments have failed to fund the promised development of replacement methods – even though animal models are flawed and imperfect approximations of the human body and human disease.
Most companies claim they would prefer not to test on animals, but they are doing it to protect humans or for the advancement of science. This is simply not true when so many alternatives are available.
“ It is no longer accurate or reasonable (if it ever was) to say that the only moral choice is between experimenting on animals and giving up on medical progress. This is a false dilemma. - Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics"
‘Greenwashing' or 'Humane-washing' is a common PR tactic used by companies to either deceive or conceal information around animal tests.
For example L'Oreal, along with many other major cosmetic/household product companies, try to minimise their animal testing activities by publicising their alternative research projects and charitable works. While it is commendable that L'Oreal is developing alternatives to the use of animals, it should not be used to hide their continued reliance on animal testing outside the European Union. Galderma (co-owned by L'Oreal and Nestle) conducts animal experiments, which means L'Oreal (and Nestle) are just as complicit.
Ways to tell if a product has been tested on animals
Arguments against Vivisection
The notion that the infliction of suffering on other species is acceptable for the benefit of humans is wrong. The word speciesism was coined by the philosopher Peter Singer in his book Animal LIberation and is defined by him as “ a prejudice or attitude towards the interests of one’s own species and against those of members of other species”.
Speciesism may be likened to racism and sexism and until we stop exploiting animals for our own advantage, we cannot consider ourselves to be either truly liberated, or moral people. Medical researchers claim to abide by “ethical” codes which are meant to protect laboratory animals, yet cruel experiments still take place on a regular basis and suffering is an inherent part of the animals’ lives.
Humane animal experimentation is a contradiction in terms and one cannot be “ethically” cruel. Animals are sentient beings and have intrinsic value and as such should not be subjected to pain and suffering for the benefit of others.
Animal tests are misleading, as the results cannot be directly extrapolated to humans. Various species react differently to the same substance and often the same tests, conducted in different laboratories, do not produce similar results. Animals are poor models for the human condition and animal tests only give an approximation of the effect a substance will have on people. In light of this unreliability animal tests are often not done through scientific necessity, but to satisfy legal requirements.
When pharmaceutical drugs, for instance, are finally introduced to the market, their short or long-term use may produce side effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, blindness, and sometimes even death. These symptoms are often not easily observable in animals and only show up in the final ‘guinea pigs’- human beings.
Another problem that could occur through using animals to predict the safety of substances is the possibility of either losing, or at best delaying, the use of substances that would benefit human health. Animal tests could show intolerance to a substance by one species, that may not exist in humans and a number of examples of this type of misleading information exist.
Penicillin, which indirectly causes the death of guinea pigs by killing off useful bacteria in their gut, is hailed as a lifesaver for humans and aspirin and streptomycin, sensitising drugs, can produce allergic reactions in laboratory animals. Morphine, which sedates people, causes maniacal excitement in cats and mice and paracetamol kills cats.
Some Drug Failures
VIOXX: This arthritis drug killed up to 140,000 people after having been declared safe in animals, the drug was tested in eight studies using six animal species, yet it proved to be lethal when taken by humans.
OPREN: Anti-Rheumatic drug that killed 76 people and caused serious illness to 3,500 others even though it had undergone seven years of animal testing.
ERALDIN: Heart medication – Thousands of people were adversely affected after taking this drug and further animal tests failed to find a single species that reacts to this drug in the same way as humans.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
There are many alternatives to the use of animals in research, but a lack of availability of necessary technology, and of the finance to provide such technology, has been given as an excuse when alternative methods are not used in this country. The most common type of alternative methods involves in-vitro tests, skin and cell cultures, epidemiology, computer software, databases of tests already done to avoid duplication and human clinical trial tests. Donated blood can be successfully used for pyrogenicity studies and micro dosing, which involves volunteers receiving very small doses of a drug to assess its basic behaviour.
Examples of alternative methods that have already been developed are as follows:
Institutes researching, or funding, alternatives to animal tests are:
Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT)
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Dr. Hadwen Trust
The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) has an online database of toxicology and alternative test methods
More Reading: Safe Medicines Campaign