As the level of animal experiments hit a 15-year high, the government is guilty of ethical and scientific negligence.
Home Office statistics released this week reveal that the number of animal experiments conducted in Britain has hit a 15 year high. There were over 3 million animal experiments started in 2006, making Britain the biggest animal tester in the EU. This contradicts Labour’s pledge to reduce vivisection and fund replacement non-animal research.
News of the surge in animal experiments coincides with a withering criticism of the failings of government legislation that was supposed to minimise the use and suffering of animals in medical research.
The criticism comes from the scientist father of cabinet minister Ed Balls. Michael Balls, emeritus professor at Nottingham University, has urged an immediate review of the way animal experiments are licensed. He has criticised the government for granting scientists permission to conduct animal research even when the medical benefits are in doubt. Professor Balls wants more investment in alternative technologies that can safely and reliably obviate the need for vivisection.
The latest statistics declared by each EU member state reveal the top three countries involved in animal experiments. Britain is number one with 3,010,000 experiments (2006), followed by Germany with 2,412678 (2005) and France with 2,325,398 (2004).
Despite long-standing pledges by the British and other EU governments to replace animal-based research with more humane methods, the recent trend in vivisection seems forever upwards.
The UK’s leading humane, non-animal medical research charity, the Dr Hadwen Trust, is accusing the government of “ethical negligence.” It has called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to “radically change the government’s approach to animal experiments by implementing a strategy for replacing them with non-animal research techniques.”
Nicky Gordon of the Dr Hadwen Trust said:
“Yet another rise in Britain’s laboratory animal suffering is a sad indictment of the government’s failed policy on animal experiments. Tony Blair’s legacy of allegiance to the vivisection industry has reversed the decline in levels of animal experiments, despite clear public concern about suffering and growing questions about scientific validity.
“Prime Minister Brown now has an opportunity to implement a strategy for change that is more about commitment than complacency. Since Labour’s election victory in 1997, when it promised better animal welfare, an extra 374,000 animals are dying each year in Britain’s labs. Labour’s era of ethical negligence must end if we are all to benefit from the clear medical, economic and welfare advantages of investing in a non-animal research future.”
The government’s new statistics this week reveal:
- 8% increase in procedures on genetically modified animals
- Genetic modification of animals now represents over one third (34%) of all procedures
- Toxicity testing accounted for 14% of all procedures.
- The use of genetically manipulated animals has increased every year since 1990, when they represented a mere 1.5% of the total.
- In all, 62% of animal experiments were conducted without any form of anaesthesia.
Increasingly, independent reviews of animal research efficacy published in reputable scientific journals like Nature and the British Medical Journal (BMJ), reveal that animal tests have limited applicability to humans. The different physiology between different species makes it scientifically and medically unreliable to rely on data collected from research with animals and to apply these research findings to humans.
Strychine, for example, kills people but not monkeys, and Belladonna is deadly to humans yet harmless to rabbits. While morphine calms and anaesthetises people, it causes dangerously manic excitement in cats and mice.
One typical medical consequence of these biological differences between ourselves and other animal species is that the use of hugely beneficial Digitalis for cardiac patients was delayed for many years because it was first tested on dogs and resulted in dangerously high canine blood pressure.
The big public health danger is that animal-based research could lead to supposed cures and vaccines that test safe on other species but have tragic side effects for humans. It has happened many times before.
The anti-rheumatic drug Opren caused 76 deaths and 3,500 cases of illness, despite seven years of animal research that supposedly proved its safety.
Thousands of people suffered adversely after taking the previously animal-vetted drug, Eraldin, for heart trouble. Since then, further experimentation has failed to find a single species that reacts to Eraldin in the same way as humans do.
Many diseases, like HIV, are found uniquely in humans. Other species are not affected by HIV, or not affected in the same way. There is therefore little point in studying HIV in cats or chimpanzees, as many scientists have wastefully done. It is far better to research the interaction of HIV with human cells, tissue and organs. This can be done in test tubes and cell cultures, and by studying HIV-positive human volunteers in ways that are safe and painless. Indeed, all the big breakthroughs in HIV research have been made in these ways. None have been achieved by experiments with other species. The life-saving protease inhibitor drugs that have slashed the death rate among people HIV were computer designed and modelled, based on human-resourced data.
This knowledge is leading more and more scientists to question the medical credibility and value of vivisection. Prestigious medical voices casting doubt on the applicability of animal research to humans include Professor Ian Roberts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His critical paper, Testing Treatment on Animals: Relevance to Humans, was published in the BMJ last year.
Professor Roberts concluded that out of a total of 221 animal experiments (using over 7,100 animals), half of the animal results failed to correctly predict the outcome in humans. A 50% success rate is about as useful as tossing a coin.
While medical research with animals cannot be dumped overnight, it is time we invested serious funds to develop safer, more reliable non-animal methods, so that this backward, flawed technology of vivisection is superceded by modern, valid and effective human-centred research. The animals deserve it and so do us humans. Those suffering with terrible diseases should not have to rely on the chance and hope that treatments developed in research with vastly different species will work for them.