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Are animal experiments necessary and can they be justified?

Animal experiments are one of the traditional approaches to studying how human and animal bodies work (in health and illness) and for testing medicines and chemicals.


Scientists who use animals argue that there is currently no other way to achieve their scientific objectives, and that any pain or distress caused to the animals is outweighed by the potential benefits of their research.

However, ‘necessity’ and ‘justification’ are both matters of opinion and open to debate. There is a range of views on how much suffering should be allowed and for what purpose (e.g. aiming to treat cancer, drug addiction, or male pattern baldness, to assess the safety of a new industrial chemical, or to find out how birds navigate) and to what species of animal.

The UK law that controls animal experiments is supposed to reflect this. It requires that the likely harms to the animals are weighed against the potential benefits of the project, that there are no alternatives available, and that the numbers and suffering of animals are minimised.

This provides a framework for making decisions about animal experiments, but the system should be implemented more effectively. For example, it is often suggested that most animal experiments are ‘life-saving’ medical research and are all done to the ‘highest possible standards’. But sweeping statements like these do not stand up to scrutiny, for two main reasons:
 

  • There is serious debate within the scientific community about the value of information obtained from many animal tests, and about the relevance of various animal ‘models’. This raises doubts about the scientific validity of applying the results from research on animals to humans.
  • There are many concerns about the poor quality of much animal research.

The issues relating to scientific validity and quality are deeply worrying. Research that is of little value, poorly designed or conducted, and badly reported is a waste of animals’ lives, causing suffering that should have been entirely avoidable. Animal experiments like these are certainly neither necessary nor justified.

Efforts are at last beginning to be made to recognise and address these problems, and the concerns do not apply to all scientists and research areas. However, poor quality animal research continues to be funded, licensed, carried out and published. This should stop. 

 

What we think

  • The scientific community, including researchers, funding bodies, journal editors and the Home Office, should do much more to critically review the scientific validity of animal experiments.
  • The ‘need’ to use animals, and the justification for the suffering caused, should both be challenged much more strongly. Animals' lives and welfare should be given higher priority.
  • Badly designed and poorly carried out experiments are invalid science and waste animals' lives. They should not be licensed by the Home Office, given grants by funding bodies or published in scientific journals.
  • Even scientifically valid research may not add significantly to knowledge in its field, or it may only be of interest to a few people. This does not justify harming animals.
  • Decisions about animal use are largely made by scientists, for scientists - a wider range of perspectives should be involved.
  • We want to see an end to animal suffering in the name of science. A more humane approach is needed.