The issue is the rights of animals. The setting is research laboratories using animals for experimentation. Do those animals have rights? Or do humans have the right to use animals for their own benefit?
The animal-rights activists often go after the issue of care and treatment of animals in experimental situations. They make waves and get publicity, but the truth is that researchers usually do treat their animal subjects as humanely as possible within the parameters of the experiments they are doing. I know this to be a fact from personal experience. The real issue is whether or not the animals should be there at all. The public is increasingly voicing skepticism and opposition to the use of animals in research and product testing. Today's animal rights movement includes at least 400 animal protectionist organizations with about 2 million members. (Baier,1993) Their attention focuses on a number of issues including the fur industry and endangered species, but much of the attention centers on the millions of animals used annually for experimentation in laboratories.
In this paper I will present both the pro-use and anti-use perspectives. I will discuss the current status of animal experimentation, the activities of both sides, and conclude with what is, in my opinion, the appropriate role of the government, researchers, and consumers.
Animals have been used for at least 400 years for scientific purposes, and early procedures such as live dissection were not questioned. By the early 1800's the animal protectionists were starting to voice their concern, and the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824 signaled the beginning of an expanded concern for animal rights.
In the early 1900's, however, the successful development of vaccines using animal experimentation was a blow to anti-vivisectionists, and the political influence of animal protectionists waned. By the mid-1900's tremendous advances in health care that had been achieved using animal experimenting justified its use and consequently met with approval of the general public. (Baier,1993)
In 1966 the Animal Welfare Act was passed recognizing the public concern for the welfare of laboratory animals by setting specific standards for lab animals' living conditions. Amendments in 1985 required all research facilities to maintain an animal care and use committee, including one voting public representative, to review all research protocols. (Bresnick,1990)
The 1970's brought a resurgence of animal rights movements due to several factors. One was the broad trend in society toward romanticism of nature and environmental awareness, expressed in the first Earth Day. Another landmark: "The publication of philosopher Peter Singer's Animal Liberation [in 1975] is generally heralded as the start of the modern animal rights movement. Huge numbers of people were inspired and began agitating for change." (Zurlo,1993)
In 1993 the Department of Transportation (DOT) approved an exemption of a required test on rabbit skin that tests corrosiveness of products being shipped. The alternative, called Corrositex, uses a membrane that mimics the reaction of skin in contact with corrosive material. This was the first in vitro alternative to animal testing approved by a government agency. (Hazard,1993)
The Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) was founded in 1981 at Johns Hopkins University, sponsored by the trade association Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA). The World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences was held in November of 1993, hosted by the CAAT. The congress was dominated by scientists already sensitive to animal welfare issues, and the activists who took part were mainly of the more pragmatic, moderate type. While the congress focused mainly on toxicity testing due to its sponsorship by the cosmetic industry, animal activists gained hope from the report that animal use in laboratories is down 50% worldwide since the late 1970's. This progress notwithstanding, millions of animals worldwide are still subjected to testing every year. (Stephens,1994)
III. Current Status
While the exact number of animals used is not really known, it is estimated that the range is 60 to 100 million, and 60% of those are rodents. Of this estimated total, behavioral and medical research uses approximately 40%, drug development about 25%, and product toxicity testing about 20%. The remainder are used in education in public schools and universities, medical programs, wildlife management research, and military experiments. (Baier,1993)
Biomedical experiments use animals as substitutes for the human body, and behavioral research includes stress tests, learning experiments and pain research. Toxicity tests are used to determine the safety or potential threat of products for human use, including cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides and industrial chemicals.
B. Government Regulations
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) oversees most animal testing. Several federal statutes, including the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, require animal testing on a limited number of substances. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires animal testing to support pesticide registration, and several other federal agencies may not require but rather encourage animal toxicity testing. While not required by law, industry often uses toxicity testing as a preventative measure for protection against liability if the company is sued.
Only one Federal law directly defines the rights of laboratory animals. The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 sets standards for lab animals' living conditions and, with 1985 amendments, requires all research facilities to maintain an animal-care and use committee to review all research protocols. The law does not restrict what goes on within the experiments themselves, and there is basically no limit to what can be done to an animal once it is out of its cage. (Bresnick,1990)
The NIH Revitalization Act, passed in 1993, instructs the director of NIH to prepare a plan for the incorporation of the three R's (refinement of techniques, reduction in the numbers of animals used, and replacement of animal methods with other techniques) into government-funded research. While enforcing the 3 R's is very subjective, it is still a move in the positive direction of limiting animal use.
Only seven states presently have legislation on their books regulating animal experimentation, and Minnesota is not one of the seven.
IV. The Interest Groups
A. Protectionists vs. Researchers
The animal protectionists are represented by two viewpoints. The extremists advocate total abolition of experimenting on animals and believe that animals inherent rights are on a par with humans. For them, any suffering or death of an animal for human benefit is morally unjustified. The moderates hold that some experimenting on animals is justifiable, and their goal as part of the humane movement is to reduce unnecessary suffering. (Baier,1993)
Those who support the continued use of animals also hold a range of opinions. The "absolute dominionists" assert that animals have no rights as compared to humans, and any research using animals that is beneficial to humans is justified. Others less extreme maintain that animals have some rights, although not equivalent to humans, and therefore the benefit to humans in some instances outweighs the harm to the animals. The cost to animals is weighed against the benefit to humans. (Baier,1993)
The researchers have the status quo on their side. They argue that animals cannot be eliminated from biomedical research because only animals can provide the necessary model for the human organism, and they cite medical advances achieved in which animal experiments played a key role. "...without the ability to use [animals] economically, and with great respect for freedom of scientific inquiry, ...many of the medical breakthroughs of the last several decades would have been impossible and future discoveries may be lost for failure to pursue research leads." (Stanley,1993)
B. Activism and Propaganda
Both sides are very active in promoting their views. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) broke into the University of Pennsylvania's lab where experiments on baboons were being conducted. They stole a videotape that documented the experiments, and the lab was eventually closed. Illegal acts ranging from sit-ins to bombings have been attributed to the ALF. (Anderson,1990) A more moderate activity of animal protection groups is lobbying for legislation that promotes humane treatment of laboratory animals.
In response to animal activist activities on the U of NC campus, a pro-research poster campaign was launched depicting a little girl surrounded by animals as well as animal rights demonstrators. The caption read, "We lost some animals but look what we saved. Thanks to animal research, they can protect 20.6 years longer." (Bresnick,1990)
Polls have shown that while the majority of adult Americans do not object to animal research, the reverse is true for teenagers. Hence, the key battleground is the classrooms. The Animal Anti-Vivisection Society launched an educational program dubbed "Animalearn" that focuses on anti-animal research. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has gone into public schools with literature, videos and sensational laboratory footage. (Carney,1993) One pharmaceutical-backed group, the Foundation for Biomedical Research, distributes pro-research educational materials to every middle school in the country. In their materials, a video dubbed "Why I Should Stay Awake in Science Class" reminds viewers that most of the medical advances we have come from research with animals. Research advocates say they are responding to an aggressive school-based campaign by animal defenders and that animal-rights groups are outspending them and spreading disinformation, especially to young people.
Animal research advocates have a resource that animal-rights groups do not: the federal government. The NIH distributes its own pro-animal experimentation materials in schools including a cartoon poster called "Let's visit a Research Laboratory" complete with smiling rats and monkeys.
A. Personal Reflection
My choice of the topic of animal experimenting stems from an interest to pull together two seemingly contradictory aspects of my life: my love of animals and my experience experimenting on animals in a research lab.
I have had a lifelong love of animals in general, dogs in particular, and in 1982 I decided to extend that feeling to a decision to no longer eat mammals. I adhere to that decision today.
In 1969 I worked in the toxicology department of a research laboratory. I had just graduated from college with a BA in biology, and it seemed to be a good fit for my scientific training. While working there I always felt a reluctance to "terminate" the animals at the end of an experiment, as we euphemistically referred to killing them, but overall the work there seemed right and appropriate. Testing products for safety of human use seemed justified.
However, there has always seemed to be a discrepancy between willingly "terminating" animals and deciding to cease eating them. So I welcomed the opportunity to write this paper and learn some different points of view on animal experimenting and animal rights. In the process I have been able to formulate my own opinion regarding the justification of experimenting on animals.
To address the question from the beginning of the paper: do animals have rights? Do we humans have the right to use animals at will? Many experiments on animals today are similar to those done on Jews in Nazi Germany, and certainly those actions were immoral. Just where do we draw the line?
The dominionist researchers are living in the past, claiming that "anything goes" for animal experimenting. The anti-vivisectionists who believe that "nothing goes," and there is no instance in which humans have the right to use animals for their own benefit, are too advanced in their thinking at this time. So where is the middle ground? While acknowledging that there are areas where it will not be possible to replace animals, all participants involved in animal testing should adopt the goal of the three R's: refinement of techniques, reduction in the numbers of animals used, and replacement of animal methods with other techniques.
B. Government's Role
The Animal Welfare Act primarily costs money in regulating nitpicking details of cage size when research animals are generally well cared for. The real issue is the justification of doing the experiments at all. Validation of alternative testing methods is necessary to be accepted and implemented by the regulatory agencies. The DOT's acceptance of Corrositex will hopefully be the first of many more alternatives used by government agencies.
Biology classes in public schools should be using videos to demonstrate anatomy rather than dissecting real animals. Future surgeons need more realistic experiences, but elementary and high school students do not.
Research for its own sake funded by government grants, pursued in hopes of accidentally stumbling across valuable scientific discovery, is unjustified. It is not appropriate when the lives and welfare of other beings are at stake.
Government research grants should be approved only when they have a serious purpose and there is reasonable assurance that the use of the animals in the research will be responsible, humane and directed at worthwhile goals. Presently too much research funded by government grants is trivial and exists merely to keep scientists busy. It is a waste of taxpayer money and animals' lives.
C. Researchers' Role
The role of the scientific community is to cease denying the existence of any problems with the status quo and move to direct more of their efforts to developing innovative and effective alternatives to animal use. Many progressive scientists are doing so and have already adopted the 3 R's approach. An objective approach to implement the 3 R's exists in a practical scoring system which ranks experiments on animal pain and stress, exigency of the experiment, and sentience of the species tested. (Porter,1992)
D. Consumers' Role
The first role of consumers is to monitor their buying. Cosmetic and household product companies using alternatives to animal to testing include Avon, Revlon, Redken, Paul Mitchell, Amway and Nexxus. Letters to manufacturers expressing the importance of using alternatives to animal testing can be effective.
Consumers can also support animal protection groups. While the protection groups have a wide range of goals and practices, they all strive to limit the use of animals in the laboratory. Significant progress has been made in limiting animal experimentation, and the animal protection movement can take much of the credit for these developments. This success, however, does not mean we are nearing the end of all animal testing. We need to support and encourage those who have already adopted the 3 R's approach: refinement of techniques, reduction in the numbers of animals used, and replacement of animal methods with other techniques. Therein lies the best combination of animal protection and human welfare.
Anderson, G. Christopher, "Congress Cracks Down," Nature, vol.343, February 15, 1990.
Baier, Stephen W., "The Impact of Animal Rights on the Use of Animals for Biomedical Research, Product Testing and Education," The American Biology Teacher, vol.55, no.3, March, 1993.
Bresnick, Peter Haskell, "Behind the Laboratory Door," The Progressive, vol.54, no.3, March 1990.
Carney, Eliza Newlin, "Today's Lesson: Lobbying," National Journal, vol.25, no.32, August 7, 1993.
Hazard, Holly E., "Transportation Moves on Animal Alternatives," The Animals' Agenda, vol.13, no.4, (Sept/Oct 1993), 13-14.
Porter, David G., "Ethical Scores for Animal Experiments," Nature, vol. 356, March 12, 1992.
Stanley, Valerie, "U.S. Govt Delays Efforts to Improve Conditions of Animals in Laboratories," The Animals' Agenda, vol.13, no.4, (Sept/Oct 1993), 6-7.
Stephens, Martin L., "New Moves on Alternatives to Animal Testing," The Animals' Agenda, 14, no.1, (Jan/Feb 1994), 30-31.
Zurlo, J., "Animals and Alternatives in Testing - History, Science and Ethics," Pamphlet: The Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, November 1993.
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