Alternatives to Animal Testing

clinical case studies, where modern scanning techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging are used to investigate the progression of disease in sick patients.

post-mortem studies, in which doctors find clues by examining people who have died.

studies with healthy volunteers, for instance to test cosmetics or to investigate how the body functions (physiology).

test-tube experiments with human tissues for drug and medical research, for safety testing, and for the production of biological products like vaccines and antibodies.

computer simulations of body systems for use in medical research and in teaching.

These techniques have two key advantages over animal experiments: there is no suffering and results are directly relevant to human medicine.

Without animal experiments, wouldn't diabetes still be a death sentence?

As with many other historical events, interpretation of the facts does vary, but we believe the key advances in treating diabetes came from human studies and the techniques of chemical purification.

The link between diabetes and a damaged pancreas was first established by post-mortem analysis of human patients. This finding encouraged researchers to give pancreatic extracts to both laboratory animals and diabetic patients, but the extracts were so crude they caused severe toxicity. Even Banting and Best's first human trial had to be stopped, with Banting admitting that results were not as encouraging as those achieved 13 years earlier by Zuetzer. (Banting and Best's well-publicized dog experiments are widely believed to have produced the cure for diabetes). Only when the biochemist J. B. Collip used chemical techniques to purify the extracts did a more effective and less toxic preparation become available. [Source, together with original references: R. Sharpe, The Cruel Deception, Thorsons, 1988]

Although in the past, most insulin originated from animal sources, diabetic patients are now usually treated with human insulin, produced from bacteria by genetic engineering.

Would you rather let your child die than experiment on animals?

These artificial moral dilemmas are invented by the pro-vivisection lobby to emotionally blackmail people into accepting animal experiments. In fact, with the constant risk of misleading predictions, the real choice is not between dogs and babies but between good and bad science. Vivisection is bad science because it only tells us about animals whereas in medicine we need to know about human disease.

If vivisection is so unscientific, why does it continue?

There are powerful vested interests whose profits and livelihoods depend on animal experiments. Most experiments (52% in 1994) are conducted by commercial laboratories, for example, drug companies and contract research laboratories, which indicates that much vivisection is profit-orientated. Furthermore, many scientists build their careers on animal experiments and are not trained for other approaches.

Animal research is ideally suited to the 'publish or perish' world of academic (university) science: having obtained results from one species, researchers can try another and carry out more experiments to try and understand the different responses, all of which produces scientific publications - the measure of success.

Animal experiments are also more 'convenient' than clinical studies of human volunteers or patients. This is because lab animals are considered disposable species that can be manipulated as required, whereas clinical investigations must be careful not to harm the patients they study.

Supplying the needs of university, government and industrial laboratories is also big business for the animal breeders and the cage and equipment suppliers.

What about all the benefits from animal experiments? Or the claim that "animal experiments are responsible for virtually every medical advance"?

It is impossible to believe that a method which produces such conflicting results can be so vital for our health. We owe much more to studies of people and test-tube experiments. As American clinician Paul Beeson points out in The American Journal of Medicine (1979, Vol 67), "progress by the study of man is by no means unusual... it is more nearly the rule."

Don't medical charities insist that animal experiments are absolutely essential?

On average, the major medical charities that use animals devote only around 2.5% of their budgets to these experiments. If so little is spent on animal experiments then vivisection can't be crucial. It must be the non-animal methods that are overwhelmingly responsible for medical progress. And of course, some research-based medical charities do not use animals at all.

Don't we have to do animal tests because they are required by law?

According to Home Office figures, only about 20% of animal experiments are carried out for some legislative purpose such as testing the safety of drugs and other chemicals. These tests are not actually incorporated into the law itself but feature in guidelines attached to the law. But companies perform the tests to avoid any risk that their submissions might be rejected by government officials.

Just because some animal tests are done for a 'legislative purpose' does not make them scientifically valid or morally acceptable.

Would you take a drug that had been tested on animals?

Where possible, we aim to avoid products of the vivisection laboratory, buying cruelty-free consumer products and seeking treatment from complementary medicine. But it is not our fault that medicines have been tested on animals and we do not believe it to be necessary. In fact, virtually everything under the sun has been used to harm animals in experiments - including water, which has been used in drowning experiments on fur-bearing, semi-aquatic animals. We would prefer new drugs to be tested using humane, non-animal techniques such as human tissue which we believe are more reliable.