More than 5 million animals were used across the European Union in 2008 (latest available data) for the development and testing of medical products for human or veterinary use.
The discovery and development of new medicines, vaccines and medical devices for people and other animals is a long and complex process with a number of stages, many of which involve animal experiments.
The species most commonly used in the research and testing of human medicines are mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs, but monkeys, dogs and pigs are also used. A much wider range of species, including large numbers of chickens and fish, are used to test veterinary medicines.
National and international regulations currently require that new medicines are tested on animals before being licensed for use.
What animals experience
Animals can experience both physical pain and psychological distress in experiments. The degree of suffering depends on the nature of the experiment and can be anything from mild to severe.
Generally, animals are 'given' a disease or condition (such as cystic fibrosis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, rabies, equine herpes or avian influenza) then experiments are done to investigate:
- how the illness develops
- what effects it has
- how it could be prevented or its progress halted
- whether proposed treatments actually work
As well as pain and distress from the scientific procedures used, animals will suffer from the symptoms of the disease or condition that is being studied. Conditions that cause pain or distress in humans or other animals are likely to cause suffering in laboratory animals too.
In addition, healthy animals (such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, dogs and primates) are used to assess the safety of any treatments developed before trials are done on humans or on farm or pet animals. Sometimes, animals experience severe side effects of the new treatments and almost invariably they are killed at the end of the tests.
What we believe
We believe that the need to experiment on animals, and the justification for the suffering caused, should be more critically questioned. Questions must be asked regarding:
- how important is the problem being studied? - animals should not suffer so that people can have a 'pill for every ill' (for themselves or their animals), when the condition is trivial, self-inflicted, or avoidable with a little effort
- how likely is it that the research will succeed? - there may be serious doubts about the reliability of information from animal experiments, particularly for studying human diseases
We work with other animal welfare organisations, government officials, scientists in universities and the pharmaceutical industry to promote thorough ethical review of research projects and the maximum possible implementation of the 3Rs in medical and veterinary research.