Nature and Extent of Animal Experimentation

Some governments provide detailed information on the number of animal experiments carried out each year. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the annual report on scientific procedures performed on living animals under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 for the year 2000 showed that 2.71 million animals were used in that year, a significant decrease from the 1980s, when the figure topped 5 million, although the decline appears to have leveled out. An estimated 12 million animals are used in the fifteen member nations of the European Union, which includes the United Kingdom. An incomplete Japanese survey published in 1988 reported a total in excess of 8 million. There are no accurate figures for the United States because the official figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture do not include rats, mice, and birds, the species used most commonly in research. In 1986 the U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, estimated that "at least 17 million to 22 million" animals are used in research annually (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment). Many think that this figure is very conservative, and several unofficial estimates indicate a higher figure. In addition to rats and mice, dogs, cats, primates, guinea pigs, and rabbits are used widely (Singer, 1990 [1975]; Orlans).

Opponents of animal experiments have focused on examples such as those discussed below (Singer, 1990 [1975]).

TOXICITY TESTING. From about 1950 until the late 1980s the standard method for assessing the toxicity of any product was the LD50 (lethal dose 50%) test. The object of this test is to find the dose level that will fatally poison 50 percent of a sample of animals. Often more than one species of animal is used. In the process of stepping up the dose until half the experimental animals die, all of them are likely to become ill, experiencing symptoms such as nausea, thirst, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. The LD50 test was carried out routinely on most household products, including food colorings, household cleaners, shampoos, and cosmetics.

After campaigns against the test by the animal rights movement, most U.S. government agencies began to discourage the use of the classical LD50 test, and the Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare estimates that its use has fallen by as much as 90 percent (Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare). In 2000 the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced that it was planning to delete the LD50 test from its testing guidelines in favor of three alternative methods. Nevertheless, the LD50 test still is used in some circumstances, and even if only 10 percent as many animals are subjected to it, that still amounts to hundreds of thousands of animals every year. The replacement for that test, the limit test, still uses animals but does not require doses sufficient to kill them. Instead, other signs of toxicity are used. In addition to undergoing toxicity testing, many products, especially cosmetics and shampoos, used to be placed in the eyes of conscious, unanesthetized rabbits in what is known as the Draize eye test, which was designed to assess the likelihood that a product would cause eye damage. In the late 1980s, after a decade of campaigning against that test, some leading cosmetic companies developed an alternative to the Draize test and stopped conducting tests on animals.

MILITARY TESTING. It is often difficult to find out exactly what happens to animals who undergo military experimentation, but in the United States, in experiments carried out in 1984, monkeys were trained with electric shock to run for hours on a treadmill and then were exposed to lethal doses of radiation to see how long the sick and dying animals could keep running (when they stopped, they received more electric shocks). At Brooks Air Force Base, in Texas, research that involves observation of the effect of radiation on the behavior of monkeys is, according to the most recent information available, still being funded. So too is research in which monkeys are trained to "fly" a device called a "primate equilibrium platform" which simulates some of the tasks that a pilot has to perform when flying a plane. They are then exposed to radiation, to see how this affects their ability to perform. This research was first carried out in the 1960s by Donald Barnes, a psychologist who later came to consider it cruel and pointless (Barnes). Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Defense continues to fund the training of monkeys to operate the primate equilibrium platform before being exposed to "degradation in the functioning of the central nervous system."

PSYCHOLOGY EXPERIMENTS. In a psychology experiment performed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 dogs were placed in cages with wire floors that could be electrified. Subjected to repeated, inescapable electric shock, the dogs at first jumped, ran, attacked the cage, howled, defecated, and urinated, but the shocks continued until the dogs stopped attempting to escape. The experiment was designed to demonstrate the existence of a state known as "learned helplessness" in the belief that such research might throw light on some forms of depression in human beings. From 1984 to 1986 researchers at Temple University used rats in similar experiments with inescapable electric shock; at the same time researchers at the University of Tennessee at Martin were trying to apply inescapable electric shock to goldfish. Learned helplessness experiments on animals are continuing at various centers in the United States, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, where research of this kind has been carried out since 1993 (National Institutes of Health). Experiments in maternal deprivation in monkeys and other animals have been going on in American universities since the 1960s and are continuing. In research at the University of California, Davis, published in 2000, researchers carried out experiments over a five-year period to discover whether there are differences in the problem-solving abilities of monkeys reared with inanimate "surrogate mothers," as compared with the problem-solving abilities of monkeys reared by dogs (Capitanio and Mason).

STUDENT USE OF ANIMALS. Although it has been estimated that more than 5 million animals are used for dissection annually in the United States alone, there has been a move away from the use of living animals for practice surgery in medical schools. Only a minority of U.S. and Canadian medical schools still require the use of live animals, and in almost all those schools students may choose not to participate. In 2000 the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine became the first veterinary school in the United States to eliminate the use of healthy dogs for surgical training (Tufts). A number of valuable alternatives to the use of live animals in education have been developed (Smith and Boyd).

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