Thursday, 17 May 2012

Animal Testing: A Scientific Debate

protesters, animal rights, economics for teens, economics for teenagers
by Clemency Flitter

Saturday the 28th of April was the World Day for Animals in Laboratories. To mark the occasion there was a large protest and march in Birmingham and it was there where I found out more. When people think about these protests I can imagine many only think of the hard-core environmentalists and radicals. However, this didn’t appear to be the case from where I was standing. There were people of all types, all racial and social backgrounds. The speakers and leaders of the protest also made sure that it remained peaceful and even made a point of thanking the police presence; it was a far cry from some of the protests inner cities experience, where vandalism and violence are the order of the day.

I quite enjoyed speaking to the people at the rally: so what? Well, it all got me thinking. Many of the people there came up with a huge number of reasons as to why they thought animal testing was wrong. No surprises there, it was a protest against animal testing. However, what did surprise me was the amount of reasons they were able to come up with which had nothing to do with the moral issue of animal testing. This got me thinking even more, anyone can come up with emotively argued reasons why animal testing is wrong, but the old science-against-morality argument seems to have been updated. So I decided to see if I could come up with an equal for- and-against argument for animal testing using scientific reasoning alone.
Firstly, here are some of the figures that I have managed to collect from the BBC website and sources I collected from the rally.
  • According to home office records there were 3.7 million “scientific procedures” carried out on animals in 2010 (however nearly half can be accounted for by genetically modified breeding, which is a whole other issue).
  • Taking away breeding, the number of procedures was 2.1 million.
  • Of that 2.1 million subjects, 72% are mice, 13% are fish, 8% rats, 4% birds and dogs; cats and non-human primates account for 0.5%. 
  • 466,000 procedures involve the immune system (the highest amount). There were 400,000 toxicology tests (which are needed for every new drug and are basically safety testing).     
  • The UK carries out more tests than any other country in Europe (only the USA and Japan carry out more).
  •  Roughly 500 animals a day die due to animal testing.
animal rights, scientific research, economics for teens, economics for teenagers
Scientific research?
So those are the basic figures. Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Every major medical research body believes that animal research is extremely important to understand diseases and ultimately find cures for them. Leaps in genetic understanding mean that animals can now be bred to have specific traits which mean that scientists can research diseases such as cancer and dementia more effectively. Many scientists believe that animal models are essential to find cures and that without them there are many new drugs we would not have today.

However, opponents of animal testing argue that animal testing is carried out far too frequently and can give no firm conclusions. After all, DNA in an animal is far different to human DNA so even with extensive animal research it is impossible to tell the effect drugs will have on a human until they are tested. As well as this the animals themselves are often put under a lot of stress so are not under natural conditions; this means that the results of the experiments aren’t as reliable. A poll of British GPs found that 80% were concerned about the reliability of animal research and would welcome an independent scientific evaluation. US government agencies have declared that animal research is expensive, unreliable and slow. An alternative would be to spend the money usually spent on animal testing into stem cell research. In recent independent studies it has also been discovered that 1 in 10 of all animal tests seem to hold no scientific, social or medical benefits.

Nevertheless, it could be argued that animal testing is one of many reasons we can cure so many of what once were life-threatening diseases. Animal tests are the non-essential cosmetic tests of the past. They are heavily regulated and carried out extremely carefully. Without these tests not only would we still not have cures for certain diseases, we would have had to test them on humans, which could have caused horribly toxins in the body and even death. In addition to this there is no real alternative to animal testing; stem cell research is still a long way away from showing scientists how drugs react in a body.

However, equally it could be argued that stem cell research shouldn’t be put off; satellites weren’t invented overnight so neither is stem cell research going to be perfected in a matter of days. It would be expensive but something has to be sorted after before it can become a reality. Also, the cost of animal testing is, itself, a huge expense to the taxpayer. Animal testing means paying for the animals themselves, the places for the animals to be kept, the tools need to administer treatments to the animals, the food for the animals etc. If we were to slow down some of the animal tests and instead put the money into stem cell research then in the long run things could get a lot cheaper and more accurate.
medicines, economics for teens, economics for teenagers
Medicines: could they be here without animal testing?

These seem to be the main scientific arguments for and against animal research (well at least all the ones I could find though please leave a comment if you can find any more). My own personal view, taking away any ethical or religious element, is that animal testing, though useful in the past, has become harder to take at face value. With more drugs to cure more and more complex diseases it becomes harder and harder to be able to tell what would happen on a human from the reaction of an animal. I also feel that it is impossible to ignore the ethical issues even when trying to look at this from a very scientific perspective: personally I think that animal testing will be hard to get rid of permanently, but I would like to see it phased out slowly as more money is pumped into stem cell research and models instead.

This is just my opinion. But what do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion on this highly contentious issue, so leave a comment and have your say!


  1. I really like how you've rationalised your argument so well and your article has really changed my views on animal testing!

    1. Good to hear you liked it! I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about the issue, it is something that it is hard to argue rationally so I am glad you feel I have succeeded! :)

  2. This article is really useful as it gives the scientific arguments as well and mostly, as you have clearly pointed out, people always just talk about the ethical/moral issues regarding animal testing. I think that I would agree with you. Animal testing used for drug testing for example may not give the most reliable results in the first place; on top of that, if you are having to invest in equipment and extra resources to look after the animals only to receive incomplete and unreliable results, then the process does not sound at all economically sustainable or at all efficient in that matter. There is also the problem that animal tissue and human tissue as well as DNA may be considerably different to each other. The variation may give heed to unreliable results which means that we are unnecessarily spending money as well as causing pain to animals. I agree stem cell research would probably be a much better branch of science to invest more towards as it has the potential of curing many other types of disease or even disability (theoretically) whereas there is only so much we can achieve out of animal testing.


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