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BLOG: A closer look at vivisection – Rhiannon Smith, Animal Justice Project Volunteer

It is estimated over 100 million animals are used for vivisection worldwide every year. Not only are these animals subjected to cruel and prolonged treatments – something which they have no say over whatsoever – the way there are handled and housed also causes suffering, such as being put in small, bare cages. Many of these are rodents such as mice or rats, however animals traditionally used as companions (‘pets’) like cats, dogs and rabbits are also routinely used in laboratories. The laws governing animal experimentation vary from country to country, however in the UK the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulates the practice. The Act is administered by the Home Office and states vivisection must take place in licensed premises and be carried out be licensed individuals. The United States is thought to be the largest user of animals in laboratories, with the number of animals it uses per year much higher than it admits as certain breeds are excluded from its estimate. In the UK, around 4 million animals are experimented on every year, and many others are bred but never used, meaning they are killed and their deaths never recorded Almost half of vivisection here takes place in universities.

So what happens in laboratories? There are various different ways animals are used for research, such as testing drugs on them in an attempt to see how they would affect humans and as ‘models’ to study disease. The animals aren’t even always given painkillers as researchers don’t want them to affect the results – in 2013, over 70 per cent of experiments were done without anaesthetic. Animals are sometimes genetically modified, for example using their genes to force them to develop a certain disease or abnormality. Many of the experiments are unimaginably cruel; for example, Cardiff University injected rats with mind-altering drugs before forcing them to swim and at Porton Down (a government warfare laboratory exposed by Animal Justice Project last year here rabbits had weights dropped on them so they could be infected through their open wounds. Apart from the scientific reasons mentioned below on why these ‘procedures’ are wrong, there are also strong ethical reasons for ending vivisection. Animals are sentient beings and just like humans, they can feel pain too – if these experiments were conducted on humans, they would undoubtedly be classed as torture. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Vivisection is a social evil because if it advances human knowledge, it does so at the expense of human character.” If humans want cures for diseases, it is their responsibility to find other methods, as animals are not put on the planet for the use of people.

Many of those who test on animals argue they are doing it to help humanity, for example finding cures for diseases or developing drugs. But is animal experimentation actually effective in terms of research and developing cures? One key reason it is pointless in this regard is that animals are just too different biologically from humans, meaning the result a test has on an animal could easily be different when tested on a human. For example there are some drugs which are poisonous to animals but are used as treatments for humans, and vice versa. These include aspirin and paracetamol, which are poisonous to cats, and blood-thinning drug Warfarin, which is also used in rat poison. Even testing on primates, assumed to be similar enough to humans to overcome this, is ineffective because they are so unlike to us on a molecular level and their brains function differently. Chimpanzees were used in experiments to find a cure for AIDS, however we now know they cannot die from the disease, unlike humans. A report from 2004 even suggested the NHS spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year on cases of adverse reactions to drugs. If researchers used other means of experimentation that do not involve animals, then we would be more likely to find effective treatments. It is estimated 95 per cent of drugs fail in human tests despite having positive results in animal ones, and less than 20 per cent of serious side effects are revealed through vivisection.