The issue of animal testing is highly contentious: people who promote animal rights oppose animal testing because the animals suffer; people who support animal testing say that it is a necessary evil that allows medicines to be developed and ultimately used to improve the health of humans.
Both sides use a lot of arguments in support of their cause, and the truth can become rather obscured. Here are some common questions asked about animal testing and animal rights, and our answers to those questions.
1. Why do we have animal testing in the UK?
We can test medicines on cells and see what effect those medicines would have on those cells in a human body. But to see what would happen to those cells when all the other cells in the body were also affected (as would be the case if a medicine were given to a person) animals are used. The UK does not allow humans to be used to test medicines at this early stage of developing a medicine.
Medical testing on animals is used to further scientific understanding of medicine and anatomy and it is used to try to find ways of curing or preventing disease or illness.
2. Are there any alternatives?
The RSPCA applies pressure to the need to develop viable alternatives to animal testing. It says that animals suffer before, during and after testing and that other methods of testing medicines must be found. They continue to campaign for this whilst monitoring the current use of animals in laboratories.
3. Where does animal testing happen?
In order to get approval for carrying out testing on animals, a named person (usually a scientist, doctor or vet) must have appropriate training in doing so. They must demonstrate good reasons for needing to use animals and they must show that they have considered alternative methods. The testing can only take place in licensed premises, which might be at a university or research laboratory.
4. Aren’t animals’ and humans’ DNA too different?
Animal rights supporters have argued that different animals react in different ways to the same medicines. They usually highlight the fact that guinea pigs can die if given too much penicillin and say that if Alexander Fleming had tested his discovery on them instead of mice the discovery of the medicine that has saved countless lives would have been delayed. But animals are very similar, even at DNA level, and most differences are known. Many animals suffer from the same or similar diseases to humans.
5. Do animals suffer?
Different countries have different laws relating to how animals must be treated before, during and after testing. In some countries those laws are lax or may be lacking altogether. In the UK the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 as amended in 1999 and the relevant EU directives aim to ensure that animals are treated as humanely as possible. The animals must be properly cared for and there must be a vet available at all times. But animals who are given diseases so as to study the effects of medication do suffer. That is why the RSPCA is pushing to replace animal testing with a completely humane alternative.