At least tens of millions of animals – and perhaps as many as 100 million – are used in experiments in U.S. laboratories every year. Precise numbers are impossible to obtain because rats, mice, or birds used in experimentation are not protected by any law, and laboratories are not required to count these animals. These animals make up at least 95% of the animals used in experiments.
The best and most recent estimate available is 115 million animals.1
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) releases annual statistics for animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) who were used in experimentation. APHIS statistics for 2015 reveal that 834,453 “covered” animals were used in experimentation that year, including 19,932 cats, 61,101 dogs, 172,865 guinea pigs, 98,420 hamsters, 61,950 primates, 46,477 pigs, 138,348 rabbits, 10,678 sheep, and 130,066 additional animals of unspecified species. Laboratories reported that more than 320,000 of these animals were used in tests that involved pain.
Additionally, more than 130,000 animals were used for the purpose of breeding more animals for experimental use. This includes 1,149 cats and 6,080 dogs.
Again, these statistics do not include rats, mice, and birds, which make up more than 95% of the animals used in experimentation. Here is the original USDA statistics summary.
95% of animals used in experimentation – rats, mice, and birds – are not protected under any federal law.3 The only federal law covering the remaining 5% is the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but the provisions of this law are incredibly weak and its enforcement is meager.4,5 The AWA concerns itself mostly with housekeeping requirements to ensure that the laboratory is kept clean and sterile and with requirements to keep paperwork in order. No experiment is prohibited on the grounds that it is too cruel, pointless, or repetitive. Additionally, laboratories are allowed to issue themselves “exemptions” to the already-weak protections afforded by the AWA if they claim such an exemption is scientifically justified. These exemptions – which often allow the laboratory to deprive animals of food or water for days at a time or cage animals without any social contact with other animals– completely tie the hands of USDA officials who are charged with enforcing the law. Dogs in laboratories are kept in sterile environments in small cages with artificial light and ventilation. They never get to feel sunshine, breathe fresh air or run through the grass. Most dogs never even leave their cages except to be used for invasive experimental procedures.
Furthermore, most state anti-cruelty laws contain explicit exemptions for animals used in experiments. This means that acts that normally would constitute cruelty and result in a possible prison sentence are allowed if those acts are perpetrated on animals confined in a laboratory. The animal research industry lobbied for these exemptions to state anti-cruelty laws. 6
Yes, animals in laboratories commonly engage in stereotypic behaviors, like circling the cage, endlessly rocking back and forth, pulling at their own hair and self-mutilation.7,8 Many nonhuman primates in laboratories injure themselves so severely that they require intervening veterinary treatment. These behaviors are recognized as symptoms of severe mental distress.
In product testing corrosive substances are smeared on their skin or into their eyes without any pain relief. In toxicity experiments, dogs, rats, and monkeys commonly have experimental compounds like pesticides19 forced down their throats,10 injected into their bodies,11 or they are forced to inhale substances via masks that are strapped on their faces.12 Unapplied research, which commonly occurs at universities, can involve electrical shocks,13 addicting animals to street drugs,14 radiation poisoning,15 burns,16 intentional infliction of psychological trauma,17 or mutilations, including sewing eyelids shut.18
There is growing recognition in the scientific community that animal research does not produce meaningful data,19 that billions of dollars have been wasted on animal experiments with little to no relevance for human health20 and that animal tests can often be disastrously misleading.21 Many drugs that are now known to be harmful for people, including Vioxx and Thalidomide, cannot be readily demonstrated as harmful in animal tests. Animal experimentation diverts much-needed funds that could go to modern non-animal alternative methods. This suffering is NOT necessary.
No, the results often do not apply to humans. Many of the most commonly studied human diseases do not naturally occur in animals, so artificial forms of these diseases must be induced. These diseases may reproduce similar symptoms in the experimental models, but they differ from the human disease in important and relevant ways.22 Making a healthy animal artificially sick to test illness that occurs in humans often misleads researchers.23
No, it does not. At the request of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted a thorough review of scientific literature to ascertain whether or not the use of chimpanzees was necessary for biomedical research. In December 2011, they issued their landmark findings that stated “most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary.”24 In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its own report corroborating these findings, stating that “research involving chimpanzees has rarely accelerated new discoveries or the advancement of human health for infectious diseases.”25
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that 92% of drugs found safe and effective in animals don’t even make it out of clinical trials because they are either ineffective or too harmful in humans.26 Of those that make it to market, many still harm and kill people. Today, one in seven people are hospitalized because of an adverse reaction to a drug that tested safe in laboratory tests on animals; 106,000 people die from these drugs every year, more than the number killed by all illegal drugs.27
Resistance to alternative testing techniques often comes from those with a financial stake in the business including animal importers, breeders and dealers, equipment and cage manufacturers, feed producers, and drug companies. Additionally, most universities receive tens or hundreds of million dollars in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for animal experiments. Animal experimenters are also represented by organizations that lobby politicians to expand funding for animal experimentation and fight industry regulation. Furthermore many researchers are stuck in their old ways, reluctant to learn new techniques. As on researcher put it, “[A]ll the accumulated skills, and the production facilities…cannot be stopped just like that…[w]ith their short life cycle mice are a boon for producing articles. ‘Publish or perish’: the old saying is truer than ever today.”28
In the 21st century of biomedical science, the questions scientists are asking relate to biological processes that occur on the molecular and genetic level. Increasingly, animal models are becoming antiquated as researchers are turning to cutting edge research techniques like pharmacogenomics, computer modeling, and in vitro testing of drugs and consumer products. These offer tremendous benefits over animal-based testing, as the results are infinitely more reproducible and correlate better in real-world applications. Epidemiological studies and clinical research also provide more meaningful data for medical professionals treating patients than animal-based research. And history has shown that improvements in engineering and imaging technologies including CAT scans, and MRIs, sonograms and EKGs have led to better understanding of the human body and more therapeutic developments than animal experimentation.28
In-vitro testing of drugs and consumer products offers benefits over animal-based testing, as the results are infinitely more reproducible and correlate better in real-world applications. Noninvasive imaging and testing including CAT scans, and MRIs, sonograms and EKGs have led to better understanding of the human body.
1 Taylor, K., Gordon, N., Langley, G., & Higgins, W. (2008). Estimates for worldwide laboratory animal use in 2005. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 36(3), 327–342.
2 USDA-APHIS “Annual Report Animal Usage by Fiscal Year . Published online on November 28, 2014. Available for download at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/7023/Animals%20Used%20In%20Research%202013.pdf.
3 7 U.S. Code § 2132(g).
4 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Oversight of Research Facilities,” audit report, Dec. 2014. Available for download at http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33601-0001-41.pdf.
5 Grimm, D. (2015). Audit questions U.S. oversight of lab animal welfare. Science. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa6311.
6 Roller, E. (2011, June 21). Bill exempts researchers from animal cruelty cases. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved from http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/124325039.html.
7 Lutz, C., Well, A., & Novak, M. (2003). Stereotypic and self-injurious behavior in rhesus macaques: A survey and retrospective analysis of environment and early experience. American Journal of Primatology, 60(1), 1–15. http://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.10075.
8 Hubrecht, R. C., Serpell, J. A., & Poole, T. B. (n.d.). Correlates of pen size and housing conditions on the behaviour of kennelled dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 34(4), 365–383.
9 Eraslan, G., Kanbur, M., Siliğ, Y., Karabacak, M., Soyer Sarlca, Z., & Şahin, S. (2015). The acute and chronic toxic effect of cypermethrin, propetamphos, and their combinations in rats. Environmental Toxicology, n/a–n/a. http://doi.org/10.1002/tox.22147.
10 Morton, D., Reed, L., Huang, W., Marcek, J. M., Austin-LaFrance, R., Northcott, C. A., et al. (2014). Toxicity of Hydroxyurea in Rats and Dogs. Toxicologic Pathology, 0192623314559103. http://doi.org/10.1177/0192623314559103.
11 Yaksh, T. L., Hobo, S., Peters, C., Osborn, K. G., Richter, P. J., Rossi, S. S., et al. (2014). Preclinical toxicity screening of intrathecal oxytocin in rats and dogs. Anesthesiology, 120(4), 951–961. http://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000000148
12 Werley, M. S., McDonald, P., Lilly, P., Kirkpatrick, D., Wallery, J., Byron, P., & Venitz, J. (2011). Non-clinical safety and pharmacokinetic evaluations of propylene glycol aerosol in Sprague-Dawley rats and Beagle dogs. Toxicology, 287(1-3), 76–90. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2011.05.015.
13 Schmeltzer, S. N., Vollmer, L. L., Rush, J. E., Weinert, M., Dolgas, C. M., & Sah, R. (2015). History of chronic stress modifies acute stress-evoked fear memory and acoustic startle in male rats. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1–10. http://doi.org/10.3109/10253890.2015.1016495.
14 Carroll, M. E., Kohl, E. A., Johnson, K. M., & LaNasa, R. M. (2013). Increased impulsive choice for saccharin during PCP withdrawal in female monkeys: influence of menstrual cycle phase. Psychopharmacology, 227(3), 413–424. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-012-2963-y.
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17 Zhang, B., Suarez-Jimenez, B., Hathaway, A., Waters, C., Vaughan, K., Noble, P. L., et al. (2011). Developmental changes of rhesus monkeys in response to separation from the mother. Developmental Psychobiology, 54(8), 798–807. http://doi.org/10.1002/dev.21000.
18 Kind, P. C., Sengpiel, F., Beaver, C. J., Crocker-Buque, A., Kelly, G. M., Matthews, R. T., & Mitchell, D. E. (2013). The development and activity-dependent expression of aggrecan in the cat visual cortex. Cerebral Cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 23(2), 349–360. http://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhs015.
19 Pound, P., & Bracken, M. B. (2014). Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research? BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 348(may30 1), g3387–g3387. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g3387.
20 Begley, C. G., & Ellis, L. M. (2012). Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research. Nature, 483(7391), 531–533. http://doi.org/10.1038/483531a.
21 Attarwala, H. (2010). TGN1412: From Discovery to Disaster. Journal of Young Pharmacists, 2(3), 332–336. http://doi.org/10.4103/0975-1483.66810.
22 Singh, M., Lima, A., Molina, R., Hamilton, P., Clermont, A. C., Devasthali, V., et al. (2010). Assessing therapeutic responses in Kras mutant cancers using genetically engineered mouse models. Nature Publishing Group, 28(6), 585–593. http://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.1640.
23 Gura, T. (1997). CANCER MODELS: Systems for Identifying New Drugs Are Often Faulty. Science, 278, 1041. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.278.5340.1041
24 Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Altevogt, B. M., Pankevich, D. E., Shelton-Davenport, M. K., & Kahn, J. P. (2011). Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US).
25 Report of the Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research. Released January 2013.
26 Innovation or Stagnation, Challenge and Opportunity on the critical Path to New Medical Products (March 2004). FDA Report.
27 Lazarou J, Pomeranz B, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA 1998;279:1200–1205.
28 Herzberg, N. (2015, March 20). Mice losing their allure as experimental subjects to study human disease. The Guardian.
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