Animal research is the process of using non-human animals to control variables that may affect biological systems or behaviors in experiments. It is the process of animal testing that is done under the guise of research to benefit humanity, but the applied research may have little or no concern to the animals involved.
Up to 100 million animals, from fish to chimpanzees, may be used every year for the purpose of animal research. Reptiles, amphibians, fish, rats, and mice make up about 85% of the testing population in any given year.
The advantage of animal research is that it puts no human lives at risk. Experiments can take place to determine if a product or idea will work as intended. If it does, then it can be tested on humans with a lower risk of a negative outcome.
The disadvantage of animal research is that it lessens the value of life. Most animals, once the testing process has been completed, are euthanized. Many of those animals are purposely bred for the experiments being performed as well, which means millions of animals are at a higher risk of suffering from abuse or neglect in a field that is often poorly regulated.
Here are some of the additional pros and cons of animal research to discuss.
What Are the Pros of Animal Research?
1. It has led to several medical advancements for humans.
The British Royal Society has released a statement regarding animal research, noting that almost every 20th century medical achievement relied on the use of animals in some way during the development process. Because it cannot be fully replaced by computer simulations or models, the argument is that live testing will continue to be needed.
2. It enhances the safety of the products being released.
Animal testing helps to lessen the risk of an unplanned event occurring when humans use or ingest the products that are part of the animal testing experiment. Drugs can be potentially and immediately harmful to humans, especially during the testing phase of a product, so animal testing allows for researchers to determine the quality and safety of a product before humans take it.
3. There are no other testing alternatives.
Animals are the closest thing to humans on our planet. If one assumes that human life is more valuable than animal life, then performing experiments on animals makes sense because it offers the chance to explore how the various living systems within a body may react when exposed to a test sample. Animals and humans share numerous systems, including the central nervous system, and the data collected can be used to improve products.
4. Some animals are almost carbon copies of humans.
The reason why mice are frequently used in animal research is that their genetic profile is 98% similar to humans. Chimpanzees were popular to use in the past, and still are in some areas of the world, because their genetic profile is 99% similar to a human. With similar organs, circulatory systems, and reactions to an illness, researchers can look at how animals react and be able to make comfortable prediction about how humans might react.
5. It offers a different set of legalities.
Testing humans with invasive experiments could result in death. Although there will always be a risk when testing new items, even after animal research has provided positive data, the risks to a human without animal research would be incredibly high. Through animal research, the legality of accidentally causing the death of an animal is very different than what would occur with the accidental death of a human.
6. It provides an opportunity to examine a complete life cycle.
In many countries, the average life expectancy of a human exceeds 70 years of age. Some nations have an average life expectancy of over 80 years. In comparison, a mouse has a lifespan of 2-3 years, allowing researchers the opportunity to study through research and experimentation how something may affect the life cycle. Any long-term research involves mice and rats because of this unique aspect to the research.
7. There are protections in place for the animals.
Although animal research may have ethical concerns, the US has regulated its practice since 1966. Veterinarians are required to inspect the living conditions of the animals. Committees must approve animal research and be held responsible for the humane treatment of each animal. Access to food and water is mandatory, as are shelters that follow minimum sizing standards.
What Are the Cons of Animal Research?
1. Many of the items that are tested are never used.
Animal testing may provide safety benefits for new products, but some of the items that are tested will never be used. That means animals will likely be sacrificing their lives to determine the safety of a product that a human will never even know was being developed. With no direct societal benefit produced, what is the benefit of an animal suffering from the testing process?
2. It can be an expensive practice.
Caring for an animal requires a large investment. Some of the animals that are used for testing are bought at auction or taken from the wild, which brings additional costs into the process. According to Petfinder, the total cost of caring for a single dog could be over $9,000 per year. Even at the low end of the scale, the car cost is over $500. Now multiple those costs over an entire laboratory and the cost of animal research becomes very high, very quickly.
3. It may not offer valid results.
The structure of an animal’s body is very different from the structure of a human’s body. That means animal research can be more unreliable than even researchers claim it may be. Several drugs have passed animal testing, but have been found to be harmful to humans. In 2004, the FDA estimated that 92% of drugs that pass their pre-clinical tests, including animal research, fail to reach the market. Recent data suggests that failure rates from animal research to human research could be even higher, at 96%, according to the NIH. Nearly 100 vaccines for HIV showed potential in primates, but failed in humans. That means the results that animal research can produce may not even be valid.
4. Many facilities are exempt from animal welfare laws.
About 4% of the animals that are involved in ongoing research projects are covered by animal welfare laws. That means there are more than 20 million animals who could be at a high risk of abuse or neglect in the name of research. Even when the facilities are in compliance with the law, they are governed by committees that are self-appointed and only a direct inspection of the facility would let someone know there are issues going on.
5. Animals don’t need to be the “only” method of research.
Although testing living tissues will be beneficial compared to computer simulations for the recent future, there are methods of research that can involve living tissues that don’t put the lives of animals at risk. From living cell lines to cultures and other forms of cell harvesting, there are possibilities available. A cell line from cervical cancer cells taken in 1951 is still being researched, even though the individual died from that cancer in the same year.
6. Poor research practices invalidate the data obtained.
Data discrepancies are not the only issue that face animal research transitioning to human research. When poor research practices are used, the data that is obtained could be invalidated. There is also the possibility that poor research practices could create false positive data that could then place human lives at risk. Unless there is accurate and complete oversight over the current field of animal research, this threat to the data will always exist.
7. Reverse data can also be a problem with animal research.
There are drugs and products that could be harmful to animals, but highly beneficial to humans, and the current state of research priority would make it extremely difficult to know if this was the case. Animal testing occurs before human testing. An example of this issue is aspirin. It is a dangerous product for animals to have, but think of the millions of lives that have been improved or saved because of the drug. Insulin causes animal birth defects, but it saves lives every day. That is the reality of animal research.
The pros and cons of animal research will always be controversial. Testing animals to see if a product is safe may be better than testing humans first, but that also means the life of an animal is devalued. On the other hand, more animals are butchered for food every year than are used in animal experimentation, so the ethics of life value are more of a gray area than distinctly black and white.
How do you feel about the process of animal research?