Did you know that around the world, millions of animals are used in experiments every year?
This includes cats and dogs, rats and mice, rabbits, monkeys, farm animals and wildlife. Some of the experiments involve simple things like just watching animals in their natural environment, but many can cause great harm and suffering to the animals.
Product TestingMany cosmetics and household cleaners are tested on animals to find out whether they are toxic (poisonous).
Chemicals are placed in rabbits’ eyes to see how much harm they cause. Rabbits are used because they are timid, have large eyes and do not have tears to wash away the substance, so researchers can monitor how badly their eyes are damaged. This is called the Draize test.
Sometimes a patch of fur is shaved off animals and the products are applied to their bare skin to see how much irritation occurs. This is a skin irritancy test.
Chemicals can be force-fed to animals until half of them die from poisoning. This is called the LD 50 Test.
Each of these tests is very painful for the animals, but they shouldn’t need to happen as there are other ways of testing whether a product is safe, such as by using test tubes, using human skin grown in a laboratory or by only ever using chemicals in products that are already known to be safe.
There is even a test called Eytex(TM) which uses a vegetable protein from jack beans. Like the cornea of the eye, this clear protein gel becomes cloudy when in contact with an irritating substance. In the Draize test, people have to estimate the degree of damage caused, that is, how swollen or red part of the rabbit's eye is. This system isn't very accurate. In the Eytex test, the degree of cloudiness ("damage") can be measured by an instrument called a spectrophotometer, which is much more reliable.
Medical TestingDrugs and medicines are tested on animals before they are given to sick people
Before new drugs are available for sale they have to go through pre-clinical trials. This means being given to animals to find out whether they cause any dangerous side effects.
Depending on the drug being tested this can involve the animals becoming very sick – vomiting, fever, heart attacks and even death. What is particularly bad about these tests, however, is that despite causing pain and suffering to the animals they don’t even provide accurate information about how the drug will react in people.
This is because of ‘species differences’. Animal bodies are different to human bodies and the ways in which they process drugs is different to how human bodies process drugs. In fact, 9 out of 10 drugs that are safe in animals don’t work in humans. This is exactly why doctors treat humans and vets treat animals. Think about why you don’t give panadol or aspirin to a dog (it would kill them); and why people don’t use Excelpet worming tablets. Even some foods that are safe for humans, such as chocolate and onions, can be dangerous to animals – because our bodies process them differently.
There are lots of examples of problems caused by species differences. Many years ago scientists conducted smoking experiments on dogs to prove that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, but we know very well that they do cause cancer in humans.
More recently a drug called Vioxx was taken off the market because it was causing heart attacks in humans, even though when it was tested on mice it was proven to be cardio-protective (protected their hearts).
Instead of testing new drugs on animals researchers can instead use other methods like:
Microfluidic chips – microchip systems consisting of a network of reservoirs mimicking the organ systems of a living being. Researchers can place lung, liver, fat, or heart cells inside the reservoirs, add a particular drug and quickly observe how the chemical is processed.
Micro-dosing – involves giving human volunteers miniscule doses of an experimental drug – doses far too small to have any health effects – then tracking the drug’s movement through the body.
These methods will give more accurate predictions of how a drug will react in a human body rather than how it reacts in an animal’s body.
In an attempt to make life as comfortable as possible for animals in laboratories, scientists consider environmental enrichment. This means that they are provided with bedding, variety of food, company of other animals and sometimes toys.
But even small things can stress the animals, such as a radio playing in the laboratory, doors slamming, buckets clanging and lights going on and off. Remember that many animals have sight, sound and smell that are far more sensitive than ours. Not only do these things stress the animals, they also can affect their hormones which can then make the experiments invalid.
Even in the very best living conditions, laboratory cages cannot compare with how the animals would live in their natural environment where they are free to roam and make their own choices.
Things to remember:
- More than 6 million animals are used in Australian experiments every year
- Many of these animals experience pain, fear, suffering and sometimes even death
- There are many biological differences between humans and other animals meaning information from animal experiments will not necessarily apply to humans.
- Non-animal methods are more effective at providing information that is relevant for human health.
With more than six million animals used in experiments in Australia every year, what can YOU do to help stop it from happening?
- When buying products such as shampoo, toothpaste or air freshener, make sure it’s a cruelty free brand – meaning it hasn’t been tested on animals. You can find a list of cruelty free products at Choose Cruelty Free.
- If you’re asked to participate in a fundraising event to raise money for a health charity, make sure that money does not fund research involving animals. You can find out which charities DON’T fund animal testing here.
- Also check the Humane Charity List before making any donations to health and medical charities. If it’s not listed, tell the fundraiser politely why you do not support them. www.humanecharities.org.au.
- Learn as much as you can about animal experimentation. Many people believe that it’s necessary to cure diseases and develop new medicines. By informing them about the dangers of animal experiments and suggesting alternatives, people will understand how unnecessary animal experiments really are.
- Choose animal experimentation as a topic for school talks and assignments so that more people (other students) will be aware of this cruel industry.
- Print out our Hopping Mad poster and display it where other people can learn about animal experiments.
- Learn about Leo’s story – a cat rescued from a laboratory after he’d been used in eye experiments – and share his story with others.
It will likely take a very long time before we can stop animal experiments altogether, but by making simple cruelty-free choices in our own lives and by informing others about the issue you can help make it happen a lot faster.