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Animal testing

Animal testingAnimal testing is an emotional subject. Here are some of the arguments put forward by organisations for and against different types of scientific research involving animals.

Whether you are for it or against it, animal testing is something which most people feel strongly about. It is generally accepted that brutal tests on animals for non-essential products such as makeup and perfume should be outlawed, with many major cosmetics companies such as The Body Shop and Lush taking a stand against it. But what about for more serious purposes? Many medicines and life-saving surgical techniques are possible because of animal experimentation. Should we give up this valuable research to prevent animal suffering?

Why shouldn’t we test on animals?

There are a number of animal rights groups who protest against animal testing (or ‘vivisection’ as it is sometimes known). Their argument is a straightforward one – animal tests cause suffering, and animals do not deserve to suffer just so that human beings can benefit.

Many animal rights groups concentrate on specific establishments and aim to expose cruelty within laboratories. Some organisations, such as PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stage protests outside well-known vivisection laboratories. Other organisations (such as the Animal Liberation Front) try stronger tactics, including theft of animals and sabotage. BUAV (The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) tries to end animal testing by influencing the government, as well as advising consumers about products which are not tested on animals.

Why do we need to test on animals?

A number of scientific discoveries were made through animal research. Professor Clive Page, a member of the Royal Society's Animals in Research Committee, said: "Life-saving medical advances, from the polio vaccine to kidney dialysis, have been made possible only because of the use of animals in research.”

A group of Oxford students, named Pro-Test, have begun a campaign to support animal testing. Sick of animal rights activists protesting at their laboratories, they say they are on a fight for “scientific freedom” and “the future of progress.” The group claim that whilst diseases such as cancer and AIDS continue to kill human beings, they have a moral responsibility to do everything they can to find a cure.

Famous cases

  • Huntingdon Life Sciences is an animal testing and research lab which has been repeatedly infiltrated by animal rights activists. In 1997 PETA released a video that had been secretly recorded inside the labs. It showed frequent breaches of animal cruelty laws. The labs were shut down for six months.
  • In 2002, the BUAV released a report on the University of Cambridge’s primate experiments, claiming that they were overly cruel. The British government's chief inspector of animals investigated the labs and concluded that the primates was “generally healthy” and afforded “appropriate standards of accommodation and care.”

So what’s the alternative?

  • Human testing. We do test certain drugs and products on humans, usually in clinical trials once a product has been thoroughly tested in other ways. However, with laws preventing human research which may cause suffering, researchers tend to use animals instead.
  • Foetal testing. Current laws only apply to animals after a certain stage of development. It is thought that foetuses are less likely to experience pain, and hence may suffer less in tests.
  • Chemical tests. Examination of the chemical composition of substances can be used to predict the toxic effects.
  • Computer models and microchips. These can be used to predict outcomes of certain substances on biological models.

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