Fri 21 May 2004
Animal testing for scientific research has generated controversy for decades, and the row shows little sign of abating.
Home Office figures show that more than 2.7 million experiments using live animals were carried out in Great Britain in 2002.
Although that figure has halved since the 1970s, the downward trend has levelled out in recent years and numbers now fluctuate year by year.
Ministers have unveiled plans for a new national centre to replace, refine and reduce animal testing, but anti-vivisection groups are not convinced it will make a real difference.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) believes that animal experiments cause “immense pain and suffering”, as more than 60% of all procedures in the UK are performed without any anaesthetic.
Campaigners also oppose animal testing on scientific grounds, claiming that the results of many experiments are unreliable.
They argue that the results of animal studies can never guarantee the safety or efficacy of human medicines or other products because of fundamental differences between species.
Aspirin, for example, is used as a relatively safe and effective painkiller for humans but it can be fatal to cats.
And insulin, a drug used safely by people with diabetes, can produce terrible deformities in mice, rabbits and chickens.
Animals are usually selected on the grounds of convenience and cost, with the vast majority of those used being mice and rats, and not on the basis of their “human similarities”, according to BUAV.
The organisation also believes many tests are unnecessary and are performed merely to satisfy academic curiosity, to fulfil a bureaucratic demand or because results of similar tests have been kept secret.
What campaigners really want is for funding to be diverted from animal research to develop alternative non-animal research techniques that already exist, so that all animal testing can be abolished.
These methods include using human cell and tissue cultures, test tube techniques and sophisticated computer models.
Scientists and doctors, however, have long argued that animal experiments have made vital contributions to medical advances and will continue to do so.
They say animal testing has helped to develop vaccines against diseases like rabies, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and TB.
Antibiotics, anaesthetics and treatments for asthma, leukaemia and high blood pressure have also depended on the use of animals in research.
RDS, the UK organisation representing medical researchers in the public debate about animal testing, believes it would be extremely difficult to develop new medical treatments and cures without the use of animals.
They claim animal research must continue to help us solve problems like cancer, Aids, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and malaria.
Scientists agree that not all medical research needs to use live animals, and that useful results have been obtained by using computers and studying cells and tissues.
But they view the different research methods as complementary techniques that are all equally valid and not as alternatives to each other.
According to RDS, animals are only used “when the answers to scientific questions cannot be obtained in any other way”.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of animal experiments in Britain in 2002 were conducted for fundamental biological and medical research, or to develop new treatments for diseases.
Safety testing of non-medical products used in the household, agriculture and industry accounted for just 5% of animal tests that year.
RDS concludes that research using animals should be “well regulated,
conducted humanely and only when there is no alternative”.
Copyright © 2004, PA News