Environmental Impact

Animal experiments - environmental harms (Presentation (169))

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#AnimalTesting is linked to #environmental harms, with adverse #climate and #biodiversity impacts that are rarely discussed. Read @HRAust‘s report to learn more and get accurate, environmentally sound #crueltyfree ways to do #research #AnimalExperiments https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/issues/environmental-impact/

DYK #AnimalTesting in #research uses significant energy? Up to 10x more energy m/sq compared to office buildings! Animals like horseshoe #crabs are threatened by the #animalexperiments. Safer, environmentally sound #animalfree methods are available @HRAust https://www.humaneresearch.org.au/issues/environmental-impact

Animal experimentation causes a variety of environmental harms and adverse climate impacts. These harms are often overlooked in the animal research industry. Australia emits three times the global average of CO2 emissions per capita each year.  Research labs using animals require significant energy Up to 10 x more energy per m/sq than office buildings. For ventilation fans, heating, cooling, storage, and transport, in addition to water usage. There are now better and more environmentally sound ways to do research.

Animal testing: breeding, disposal and genetic modification

There are a number of facilities across Australia where animals are bred specifically for experimentation. These facilities include:  industry owned (1), government supported (2), and university departments (3).

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) code (4) considers genetic modification in animal breeding as a scientific purpose (2.4.26) and subject to Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) approval to prevent over-breeding. 

Therefore, some of the animals bred for the purpose of research may be genetically modified. 

Some non-genetically modified animals such as mice may be sent to sanctuaries for use as a food source in species conservation (5).

 However animals who have been genetically modified are required to be “decontaminated by autoclaving, incineration or any other method approved in writing”(6). 

Other concerns are the accidental release or escape of genetically modified animals. These are then able to interbreed with wild or native populations, this may have unintended ecological repercussions. 

Animal capture and transportation

In 2015, an Australian senate committee denied the implementation of the Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research Bill 2015 (7). 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (8)requires that an “export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species in the wild”. A search using the CITES Trade Database (9) for animals traded between 2015 and 2020 shows Australia imported 10 macaques and 22 marmosets from France for scientific purposes. These 32 animals were all bred in captivity in France and transported by air freight 15,000 kilometres to Australia, despite Australia having active breeding colonies for macaques and marmosets.

Australia also exports animals to other countries for use in medical research. From 2018 through to the end of 2020, 276,279,008 animals were exported from Australia as “Laboratory Animal[s]” (10) These were primarily to Pacific islands (Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu), Sri Lanka, and Philippines.

In many parts of the world, macaques and other small primates are bred for use in research in dire squalid conditions. Image Credit: We Animals Media.
In many parts of the world, macaques and other small primates are bred for use in research in dire squalid conditions. Image Credit: We Animals Media.

Carbon emissions: animal research laboratories require significant energy

What is the environmental cost of using animals in research?

Australia emits three times the global average of carbon dioxide emissions per capita each year (11) and uses approximately one animal in research and teaching for every three people (12). This is compared to one animal for every fourteen people in the United States, and one for every twenty in the United Kingdom.

Many countries with similar government and university infrastructure as Australia have committed, some by legal binding, to reducing their emissions by up to 45% by 2020. However, the Australian government’s commitment was 5% by 2020 to which it achieved just 1.6% (13). These figures and results may significantly impact the energy strategies and efficiency applications of government owned and operated research facilities and private facilities which are often influenced by the standards of the government.

What is the environmental cost of using animals in research?
What is the environmental cost of using animals in research?
Under the NHMRC code, “measures should be taken to ensure that the animal’s environment and management are appropriate for the species and the individual animal”. To ensure the comfort and required maintenance of animal environments, research laboratories require significant amounts of energy, up to ten times more per square metre than common office buildings (14). This includes powering ventilation fans, heating, cooling, storage, and transport, in addition to water usage.

Outside of the government’s emissions reduction targets, non-government facilities have developed their own plans attempting to reduce their environmental impact (15). As part of their energy reduction strategies, many breeding and research facilities are converting to natural gas supply (15) which itself carries a number of significant detrimental environmental impacts (16). 

Depending on the level of biosecurity at a facility, there may be further energy and infrastructure requirements (17) to maintain a strict enclosed laboratory, including power supply and exhaust systems (18), in addition to increased air handling units, advanced cleaning procedures, and containment amenities (19). Bio secure laboratories may also have the requirement of being a building independent of others in the facility with independent power and airflow systems.

Animal experimentation generates additional environmental waste

Housing animals requires significant resources and care for their survival. This occurs despite the procedures that the animals are subjected to. 

Waste from animal presence and housing includes excrement, bedding, and excess food, in addition to the requirements of the experimentation such as syringes, needles, and gavages (19).

The animal’s bodies are considered as waste for disposal purposes and can be associated with hazardous exposure depending on the studies performed on them. 

Organisations used for waste disposal and transport of waste from laboratories may not be aware of the risks posed by this material waste (20). Companies hired to dispose of this waste may therefore not take adequate precautions. 

Industries using animals for toxicity and pharmaceutical testing may be contributing to groundwater and soil contamination due to runo-ff from improperly managed laboratory waste handling, removal, and disposal.

Mice in scientific research facilities are often kept alone and in their own faeces without anywhere to hide or burrow as they would in the real world. Image Credit: We Animals Media

Chemical testing on animals and environmental hazards

Chemical testing on animals has an impact on toxins in the environment

Chemical testing is a primary purpose of animal experimentation.  Therefore, hazardous substances are used in every aspect of animal research. 

Even when the research is not related to toxicity testing, chemicals are still used for sanitation, disinfection, and sterilisation (21). 

Some chemicals used for experimentation may have unknown hazardous or carcinogenic properties.

Highly toxic chemicals are also often used to preserve specimens for educational dissections and for veterinary training. 

Exposure to these substances without appropriate protective equipment can create significant health and environmental hazards.

 Veterinary schools with high safety standards have failed to meet compliance and may suggest a wider problem with safety surrounding toxic chemicals (22). 

Improper use and handling of chemicals during procedures or training can expose toxins to the environment beyond the controlled facility.

Some dissection suppliers have acknowledged the risk of preservation chemicals and supply their specimens frozen (23) 

Animal testing and pollution

Diseases caused by pollution are responsible for 16% of deaths worldwide (23) and there is possible interaction between air pollutants and gene expression affecting human health (24).

Waste from laboratories disposed of by incineration may contain 10-25% of substances which are “hazardous to humans or animals and deleterious to the environment” (25). Particulate matter, organic compounds, pathogens, and radioactive materials may be released as part of the incineration process and exposed into the surrounding environment.

Exposure to these substances poses risks to human health including cancers and respiratory illnesses. Environmental and planetary health risks include: air and water pollution, acidification, and greenhouse gas emissions in the surrounding environment.

The effectiveness of the incinerator in removing these human health and environmental health risks is reliant upon the facility’s management and the facility itself. 

Accidental spills and mishandling “may release as much or more toxic materials to the environment than the direct emissions. (26) 

Biodiversity and ecosystem imbalances

Horseshoe Crabs’ fossil record dates back 450 million years, and since the 1970s their blood has been used to check the safety of vaccines (27). Horseshoe Crab blood contains aggressive immune cells which clot around invading bacteria, neutralising endotoxin contamination during vaccine development.

The capture of horseshoe crabs to be bled for vaccine development has contributed to the decline in their populations. Additionally, they are an essential source of food for migratory birds and a critical contributor to the maintenance of coastal sediment.
Despite a considered capturing processes, horseshoe crabs have a 4% (28) death rate during capture and a mortality rate of 29% (28) when they are returned to the ocean following their bleeding and shell mutilation. The reproductive cycles of females become impaired, and the returned populations experience disorientation from their laboratory experience, contributing to further population impacts.
“[A] study in 2014 that replicated the bleeding process in their lab and found the crabs exhibited behavioral and physiological deficits for two weeks after they had been bled, such as moving less frequently and with different patterns and rhythms”. (28)
Despite the availability of validated alternatives, the US pharmacopeia, who set the standard for healthcare in the US, have abandoned their implementation as a replacement (29) in contrast to the EU pharmacopeia’s approval. This decision may also impact the use of horseshoe crab blood in the production of vaccines in Australian laboratories. 

Childhood attitudes towards animal testing


Ethical and ecological appreciation of animals occurs during children’s time through eighth to eleventh year levels at school, approximately 13 to 16 years of age (30). This is often also the time when classroom animal dissection is introduced into science lesson plans.

The presence of animal dissection in science classes and discussion of animals as ‘tools’ or ‘learning instruments’ during a vulnerable and key ethical development stage of life, alongside influenced dietary and lifestyle experiences, may contribute to the degradation of the appreciation of animals and the formulation of categories of animals with which people interact during their adult years, and the subsequent impact of these attitudes on the environment.

Animal-free research: a reduction in waste

Many animal-free methods of research use sophisticated computer software which requires climate-controlled environments, data processing facilities, and bio secure storage for tissue samples and cell cultures. 

However, the considerable reduction, elimination, or multiple-use applications of samples without waste (eg. toxicology testing using a lung-on-a-chip instead of an LD50 test on a mouse), along with a reduction or elimination of transportation, breeding, housing, and physical observation will significantly reduce the energy requirements for research laboratories.


Animals can impact the environment in ways which a computer simulation or tissue sample cannot. Non-animal methods of research cannot escape and spread disease or breed, they do not have lives or deaths which require maintenance or disposal, and they can be endlessly modified without the ethical and ecological impacts of genetic breeding or wild capture.

As many of these ‘alternatives’ to animal use require equipment, either for manufacturing or the laboratory tools themselves, transported from overseas, there may be requirement for these to be transported by air freight. Researchers may also participate in training for use of new methods of research at international locations.

Small-scale medical waste from methods such as bio samples will still require bio-secure disposal at a small environmental cost, and the storage of ethically sourced cadavers may require the use of preservation chemicals

Using digital, virtual, or synthetic models of dissection while adding education about the ecological impact of human interaction with animals during a crucial developmental stage of young-adults may reduce the levels of speciesism amongst those transitioning from school- to working-age and encourage cognitive consideration of the impact of individual choices on animals and the environment.

Learn More: Animal-Free Research

Replacing Animals: Better Ways to Do Research​

Animal-Free Research Case Studies

Global animal protection, SDGs and promoting alternatives to animal testing

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted 17 goals as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (31). In the absence of any formal or direct agenda for animal protection, a number of the sustainable development goals (SDG) (32) may be used as encouragement to return positive impacts for animals, those being ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’, ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’, and ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ (33). 

Visualisations of the goals (34) reveals that Australia has an opportunity to further develop the value of medium and high-tech industries by increasing domestic manufacturing and implementation of alternatives to animal use in research, and to increase human-relevant health by developing appropriate solutions to human issues. With animal research driving human-health initiatives there is an opportunity to improve human health, animal health, and environmental health simultaneously through the development, manufacture, and adoption of animal-free alternatives.

However, the UNSDGs fall short in that they consider only domestic material consumption and fossil-fuel subsidies as ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ measures. Reliance on consumption of animal-derived medicines cannot be sustained ethically or environmentally and the production of responsible alternatives can increase the key measures of good health and wellbeing.

In the absence of measures promoting sustainable human health development, the UN Convention on Animal Health and Protection (UNCAHP) (35) has been developed to protect animals at the global level by universally adopting the 3Rs, recognising the fundamental interests of animals, and development and promotion of alternatives to existing animal products and exploitation.

Image Credit: We Animals Media
Image Credit: We Animals Media
A lone capuchin monkey is fed after being rescued from a scientific research facility in the US. Credit: We Animals Media
A lone capuchin monkey is fed after being rescued from a scientific research facility in the US. Credit: We Animals Media

Conclusion: More analysis of the environmental impacts of animal testing is urgently needed

An analysis of the environmental impacts of animal use in experimentation and education in Australia is essentially non-existent. Initially, greater transparency in the complete number of animals used during the entire experimentation and education process, including those bred as part of genetic modification even if they are not ultimately used in experimentation, would expose the environmental inefficiencies of the current methods of research and highlight the areas for improvement and change.

The pursuit of human knowledge and scientific advancement will always come with an environmental impact. However, that impact can be significantly reduced by embracing energy efficient and ethically sustainable research methods and processes.

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Beagles are social animals, this beagle paces around his empty concrete yard in a scientific research facility in Spain. Image Credit: We Animals Media.


 1 www.abr.org.au/
2 www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/EPBC_Live_Primates_Bill/Report/c01
3 researchdata.edu.au/national-non-human-research-facility/96736
4 www.abr.org.au/about/environmental-impact
5 www.ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/cert-pc1-1
6 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25032294/
7 www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/EPBC_Live_Primates_Bill/Report/c01
8 www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/cites
9 trade.cites.org/en/cites_trade/#
10 www.agriculture.gov.au/export/controlled-goods/live-animals/live-animal-export-statistics/greyhound-exports
11 ourworldindata.org/grapher/co-emissions-per-capita
12 Population of Australia (25,693,059 as at 30 September 2020) divided by the average approximate conservative number of animals used in Australia over five years 2013-2017 (10,075,222) equals 2.55
13 reneweconomy.com.au/australia-will-not-hit-its-2020-emissions-reduction-target-till-2030/
14 www.researchgate.net/publication/28938753Maintaining_quality_and_reducing_energy_in_research_animal_facilities
15 www.tecniplast.it/au/company-profile.html
16 www.abr.org.au/about/environmental-impact
17 frackinginquiry.nt.gov.au/?a=424268
18 www.advancetecllc.com/classifications/bsl-bio-safety-level
19 www.mdpi.com/2076-3298/1/1/14
20 www.medlabmag.com/article/1111/
21 www.altex.org/index.php/altex/article/view/766/784
22 dissectionconnection.com.au/faqs/
23 www.thelancet.com/commissions/pollution-and-health
24 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019335512
25 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23612530/
26 documents.uow.edu.au/~sharonb/incinerator.html
27 www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/horseshoe-crab-blood-miracle-vaccine-ingredient.html
28 www.scientificamerican.com/article/medical-labs-may-be-killing-horseshoe-crabs/
29 www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/31/crab-blood-to-remain-big-pharmas-standard-as-industry-group-rejects-substitute
30 www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=acwp_sata

31 sdgs.un.org/2030agenda32 sdgs.un.org/goals
33 x-cellr8.com/2023/03/31/united-nations-sustainability-development/
34 unstats.un.org/sdgs/dataportal/countryprofiles/AUS#goal-9
35 www.uncahp.org


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