Melbourne Save Animals in Laboratories president Doug Leith spoke with Green Left Weekly’s Mary Merkenich about the real motivations behind animal testing.
How widespread is animal testing?
According to the latest available statistics (2016), nearly 12 million animals are used in testing in Australia. Globally, professor Andrew Knight put the figure at 127 million in 2005, but added there were significant indications this was overly conservative.
What industries conduct animal testing and for what stated purposes?
Pharmaceutical, petro-chemical, tobacco, cosmetics companies and makers of any artificial substances conduct animal tests or, more usually, pay third-party contract laboratories to do so.
The claimed purpose is to test the potential harm of substances to humans, including toxicity, teratogenicity (potential to cause birth defects), nephrotoxicity, neurotoxicity, eye irritancy etc. However, none of these claimed aims are achieved.
The actual aim is to provide legal protection to manufacturers and potentially to keep warnings off harmful products.
Animal research is the other half of the problem. Public and private institutes regularly cure mice, rats and other animals, but not from anything like the human disease they are supposedly a model of.
Is animal testing ever humane or without pain or suffering? How horrific does it get?
Even if animals are put under general anaesthesia and killed prior to waking, the incarceration, loneliness, fear and so on are still inherent problems.
Painless experiments are rare and post-operative analgesics often are excreted prior to healing so pain is experienced. It is legal to cause prolonged pain without anaesthesia if it is claimed that it is essential to achieving the experiments claimed objectives.
Studies have shown that animal experimenters regularly underestimate the amount of pain suffered by the animals. It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which animal experimenters’ claims about pain minimisation are correct as there is no transparency.
Less than 1 in 10,000 animals will leave the laboratory alive and even that tiny number is only the result of dedicated and caring people trying to save them.
Which animals are most used in experiments/testing? Are any animals excluded?
Mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits are most often used. But dogs, cats and monkeys are used and even protected and native species.
Is animal testing ever beneficial to humans?
No. There is no other species which is predictive for humans, so claims of benefit are cherry picked, known only in hindsight and most often turn out to be invalid.
The bare minimum correlation to be of any use at all is 50% (coin toss accuracy) but no species achieves even this modest number, let alone being predictive. The amount of DNA species share with humans is not nearly proportional enough to correlation for animal testing to have any practical purpose.
Can you detail some examples of how testing on animals has not been beneficial or useful to humans?
Animal experiments have failed us throughout history from centuries-long delays in blood transfusion research, decades-long delays in antibiotics creation, a 29-year delay in the polio vaccine, over 90 AIDS vaccines working in non-human primates but not in humans, HIV-infected blood proven “safe” in chimps given to about 5000 haemophiliacs in France, long delays in creating insulin, over 700 failed stroke therapies, and the list goes on.
A former director of the United States-based National Cancer Institute once said: “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn’t work in humans.” This is still the case with the vast majority of drugs that pass animal tests but fail in humans.
Other drugs, such as penicillin can be fatal to guinea pigs, cause birth defects in rats and are systemically ineffective in rabbits, yet we have penicillin today despite, not because of, animal tests.
These are just a few notable examples but all historical and present animal experimentation claims are refuted by the evidence.
Notably the animal experimenters own handbook admits its failure, stating: "Uncritical reliance on the results of animal tests can be dangerously misleading and has cost the health and lives of tens of thousands of humans."
Do you believe the idea that medicines need to be developed for individuals rather than on some arbitrary group standard will help eliminate animal testing?
Personalised medicine, in which the individuals own personal genetics are considered to identify the most suitable medicines, is vastly superior to results in other species. Needless to say if results vary even intra species then the inter species variation is much greater.
But while a very small number of companies are using valid tests, the use of animal testing continues to increase. As manufacturers seek legal protection, I can't see them eliminating animal tests, the real purpose of which is to pass product as "safe", irrespective of its actual effects.
If animal testing is not effective or beneficial why is it still carried out?
Legal protection for manufacturers. As long ago as 1964, Dr James D. Gallagher wrote: "Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value for such studies for [hu]man is meaningless."
It is difficult to conclude that these industries are unaware that animal research is not leading to human cures after decades of failure in humans. But, as governments don’t officially put animal tests on trial, despite decades’ long requests to do so, the industry can still claim the lie that animal tests protect humans.
Doctors at the Medical Research Modernization Committee sum up the main motive for its continuance: "For the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, animal experiments provide an important legal sanctuary.
“In cases of death or disability caused by chemical products or adverse drug reactions, the responsible companies can claim due diligence by pointing out that they performed the legally prescribed ‘safety tests’ on animals and are therefore not liable for damages."
Despite passing over a dozen animal tests and shown non carcinogenic in rodents, glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) was recently found to be carcinogenic in humans and Bayer/Monsanto were successfully sued. I hope that fraudulent animal tests, in which animals are slowly poisoned to death, continue to fail to provide legal protection.
Do you believe there is any ethical reason for testing on animals?
No, it is cruel, expensive and counterproductive from a human health viewpoint and can all be eliminated immediately.
What can be done to stop animal testing?
Inform the public of what really happens to animals, that it does not benefit humans, the expense and the real motives for its continuance. The public needs to demand it ends.
Constant failure to cure human disease is not stopping vivisection as the public is largely unaware of what is going on and are regularly placated with media claims of a breakthrough in animals that may help humans in 3 to 5 years.
It is imperative to get out information showing the cruelty, fraudulence and real mercenary motives for vivisection to the public.
The public accepts animal experiments because they consider them a “necessary evil”. If they knew the truth, everyone would demand it ends immediately. They would be appalled to know that they had funded the suffering and killing of animals with no hope of curing their loved ones.
What are the alternatives to testing/experimenting on animals and how effective are they?
Valid methods exist such as micro dosing, micro fluidics, personalised medicine (DNA chips), human cell cultures, mass spectrometry, computer models, rational drug design, technological improvements, novel applications of existing technology and many others.
There are also the traditional means by which medicine has advanced: clinical observation, autopsy studies, epidemiology, technological innovation etc.
These are effective, faster, cheaper and more accurate than animal tests. They can identify if a pharmaceutical is likely to cause severe side effects, for example, but these methods are not of interest to some major industries.
Simply put there is nothing to weigh up: this is not an animals versus humans issue. This is about animals, humans and the environment versus the vested interests of industries that profit from human illness and environmental harm.
They do this through the calculated mass killing and torture of animals to conceal the fact that their products will harm humans, to keep warnings off harmful products and to provide fraudulent hopes of cures for profitable diseases, all while receiving six figure salaries.
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