The harsh reality of animal testing.
It’s confronting learning about the horrific animal suffering that goes on behind closed doors, but we hope this page will help answer some common questions without exposing you to too many shocking images.
Did you know that there is an entire industry around breeding, raising and selling laboratory animals? It’s big business.
Globally, many breeds of animals are used including dogs, cats, monkeys, mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, pigs. These animals are often referred to as ‘products’, not animals. One animal dies in a laboratory in the USA every second, in Japan every two seconds and in the UK every twelve seconds – British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV). See Australia’s national statistics here.
Beagles are preferred chiefly because of their docility (they are easy to handle) and because they have short hair (easy to maintain).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Guidelines for Testing of Chemicals (1993), which as the standard guidelines for the conduct of toxicity tests recognised by most regulatory authorities, specify that in certain common types of toxicity tests two species of animals should be used – one a rodent (eg rats or mice) the other a non-rodent. The preferred non-rodent is a dog and the preferred dog is the beagle.
WHAT ARE WE WORKING TOWARDS?
REPLACEMENT. REDUCTION. REFINEMENT.
The 3R’s are an internationally accepted approach to improving animal welfare which have been incorporated into the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. These ethical principles have also been adopted and incorporated into their respective jurisdictions by the European Union, UK and Japan.
The Australian Code (‘The Code’) conveys a duty of care which requires genuine commitment to the welfare of animals used in research, respect for the contribution these animals make, and a desire to promote the welfare of all animals. It calls for the use of animals only when justified, application of high standards of scientific integrity and the obligation to respect and care for animals.
This obligation to respect animals is the governing principle of the Code and conveys the responsibility to apply the 3 R’s when undertaking any decision or action involving the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, and this responsibility applies throughout the entirety of the animal’s lifetime.
No legal obligations:
The Code merely acts as guidance to all those involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.
Although non-compliance is addressed in Section 5 of The Code, there are no penalties available.
In the event of non-compliance there will be a review, the experiment must be suspended, the method altered and approval given by the Animal Ethics Committee. The breach must be reported and recorded.
Even in the event of an independent external review, recommendations for short- and long-term improvement will be provided, and no penalty will be given.
Directly inhibits the progression towards improved animal welfare:
By continuing to promote ‘reduction’ and ‘refinement’ the Code indirectly condones the continued use of animals for scientific purposes and thus impedes the progression towards finding alternative methods and replacement for all animal tests.
This Code therefore fails to ensure the respect and protection of animal welfare within scientific fields.
-Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-code-care-and-use-animals-scientific-purposes
-The Conversation, ‘Australia’s animal testing laws are a good start, but don’t go far enough’, March 21 2019: https://theconversation.com/australias-animal-testing-laws-are-a-good-start-but-dont-go-far-enough-113112
-Animal Ethics Committee Tasmania, ‘The Three R’s’: https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/animal-ethics-committee/the-three-rs
-ResearchGate, ‘Alternative Approaches for Identifying Acute Systemic Toxicity: Moving from Research to Regulatory Testing’ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312148385_Alternative_approaches_for_identifying_acute_systemic_toxicity_Moving_from_research_to_regulatory_testing
-OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals, ‘Fish Embryo Acute Toxicity (FET) Test’: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/9789264203709-en.pdf?expires=1592887589&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=3E527FB0C2A0C868ED0729DE793F0F07
The use of alternative, non-animal tests. Replacement is the only ethical and effective way to reduce the suffering of animals being used for scientific purposes.
The Code mandates consideration of replacement techniques before the use of animal testing.
While there are many alternatives tests, not all are valid for use in Australia. The ones that must be considered include epidemiological data; physical and chemical analysis; computer, mathematical and inanimate synthetic models; simulations; in vitro systems; non-sentient organisms; cadavers; and clinical cases.
However, while these alternatives must be considered, there is no specific obligation to use that alternative test. This therefore may allow for the use of animal testing if justifiable by expense, convenience or other reason.
The use of fewer animals in testing.
The Code mandates that the number of animals used in an experiment must not exceed the minimum required to satisfy a good statistical design. The use of too few animals may invalidate the result and thus cause wastage of animals.
Reduction also involves the appropriate reuse of individual animals so that a new animal does not have to be sourced. However, the reduction in the number of animals used must not cause greater pain and distress to those being used or reused.
Any tissue or biological material from animals killed during the scientific purposes should also be shared among investigators to ensure as little wastage as possible.
An example of an approved reduction technique is the use of embryo-larval fish models, which is a validated OECD alternative test. Embryo-larval fish were being used at an increasing frequency in attempts to screen the toxicity of compounds. Under law, zebrafish embryos are not defined as a vertebrate animal until they have hatched. Thus the use of embryo-larval fish was found to be a valid consideration of the 3 R’s and an accepted method of testing.
However, despite the fact that the brood fish (breeding stock) are not exposed to testing, there was no consideration into the fact that they are being selectively bred purely for optimal egg production. There is no information as to whether the brood fish or any hatched zebrafish are killed after completion of the experiment.
The use of methods which act to reduce the potential suffering of animals when subjected to testing.
The Code encourages continuous review of all methods of testing, and consideration as to whether there are new methods which may either increase effectiveness or decrease potential pain or suffering endured by the animals.
There is a further obligation to ensure all persons involved in the animal testing are competent or under supervision of a competent person who can correctly perform the procedure.
However, there is no obligation to attempt to develop alternative strategies or refrain from implementing a method which may cause pain. This continues to inhibit any progression towards the development of methods which may improve and safeguard animal wellbeing.