Animal testing is a controversial issue. On the one hand, there is a necessity to use them for scientific purposes. They are helpful in the conduct of research on given products, cosmetics included, and drugs in order to examine their potential effects on human beings. However, an ethical issue forces itself. Testing does entail bringing about suffering. There are environmental to it as well.
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Animal Testing: Background
One might think that animal testing is an issue that is new. In fact, tests have been conducted as early as the 19th century, and it has, in turn, become a controversial issue during that period (Orlans, 1993, p.3). Experimentation on animals started to be institutionalized by the turn of the century, pioneered by such researchers as François Magendie (French), who incorporated animal experiments to his private physiology classes (Orlans, 1993, p.5).
Magendie’s practices, and the like of his peers, were the source of unease among both the public and the scientific community (Orlans, 1993, p.5). The suffering that animals were undergoing, which one would guess from the graphic description of the experiments conducted, was criticized for ethical reasons.
Mercy, cruelty, and odious pain were words put forth by critics, including scientific publications like the London Medical Gazette (Orlans, 1993, p.8). This shows that ethical concerns emerged as soon as the practice of animal experimentation started becoming institutionalized.
Up to date, natural science practitioners have gone on using animals for tests. Nowadays, one of the major areas where it is used biomedical research. The use of animals is directed towards the areas of developing medicine and genetics. It is also used in a variety of other areas, these days: cosmetics, toiletries, pesticides, and so on and so forth. The underlying idea is that what is harmful to animals would be for human beings (Orlans, 1993, p.153).
Animal testing has grown significantly in terms of areas that it covers (medicine, cosmetics, chemistry) as well as quantitatively. With such expansion, the debate could only grow between those who oppose it and those who defend it. The issue is intricate because, in fact, there are good arguments both ways.
Arguments for Animal Testing
Animal testing is used in a number of important areas of research, as enumerated above. Hence, the people who advance it from those areas try to stress the importance of what they provide in terms of health advancement (drugs) and the development of useful products (chemical products and cosmetics).
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Health researchers above all stress the importance of animal research. Biomedical research relies on animal testing to develop both human and veterinary drugs, which eventually treat health conditions for people and animals (About Animal Testing, 2009, p.1).
The subfield of genetics, in particular, benefits from the testing. The utility lies in the ability to change or remove genes from animals to artificially create a disorder; consequently, they manage to examine how a given health problem develops into the body (About Animal Testing, 2009, p.1).
This facilitates the development of drugs. This is helpful in cancer research, for instance, where mice have been found to present the same kinds of mutations that humans do (About Animal Testing, 2009, p.1).
Moreover, there is another branch that intensively uses animals, which is toxicology. This branch evaluates the safety of chemicals that are to be founded in various man-made products such as pesticides, pharmaceutics, and treated food (Woolley, 2003, p.p.1-2). In a word, their field deals with goods that we may consume every day as there are barely a hundred percent natural products that we consume.
Animals are used in vitro or in vivo to assess the toxicity of a given chemical. They are important for testing in order to have the most accurate result (Woolley, 2003, p.293). Human data is not sufficient because there is never enough evidence to fully conduct such testing (Woolley, 2003, p.293).
There is some criticism of the actual scientific utility of using animals that says that animals are not physiologically similar to human beings. Accordingly, “In August 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that only 8 percent of all drugs that pass animal tests make it to the human market.
This means that of all drugs that are found to be safe and effective in animals, a whopping 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans” (Stop Animal Test, 2009, p.1).
However, the major source of criticism is among the defenders of animal rights and environment-friendly groups. At heart, there is an ethical concern. A paradox that is pertinently put forth by anti-animal testing groups is the idea expressed by Pr. Charles Magel “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’
Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction” (Stop Animal Test, 2009, p.1). They advance that animals have feelings such as humans, and they should, correspondently, be spared pain.
Legal Restrictions on Animal Testing: A compromise?
Somewhere between the push on the part of researchers who still claim to need animal testing and animal rights groups who see it as fortuitous, there have emerged restrictions on animal testing. Indeed, in such countries as the UK, a 1999 poll showed that a majority of 64% of people are against animal testing (Lancet, 2004, p.815).
The figure goes down when the question of being for or against is given some justification, explaining the underlying reasons for using animals. Only then, the poll showed some 45% for and 41% against (Lancet, 2004, p.815). This is indicative of how the issue is appealing to the feelings of the people.
This, combined with the hard work of anti-animal testing, has brought about some legal endeavors to control animal testing around the world. For instance, Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar (2007) has put forth in that between 2,000 and 3,000 0animals in Israel will be affected by the ban on animal testing.
He advances that the Knesset has set up a normative basis for animal treatment (Sa’ar, 2007, p.9). Sa’ar puts forth that animal testing should be allowed only if a permit was secured from the Council on Animal Experimentation (Sa’ar, 2007, p.9).
In the European Union, Janez Potočnik, Commissioner for science and research, declared: “We know from public opinion surveys that animal rights are very close to the hearts of Europeans. Through research, we can develop ways of offering consumers a greater choice of products that have not been tested on animals. We will continue to support research, development, and evaluation of alternatives” (EU Commission, 2006, p.4).
Accordingly, the European Partnership on Alternative approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) has decided on has agreed for 21 activities to be carried out over the next five years. This will range from evaluating what is driving regulation in animal testing to sharing best practice and ultimately validating and accepting alternatives to animal testing” (EU Commission, 2006, p.4).
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These two examples are only meant to represent the global legal effort. There are certainly others which have been conducted and some that are in the making. It is understandable as animal groups have been voicing out their concern with the cruelty of animal testing via various channels, notably the internet, where animal groups expose the issue and their point of view.
The issue of animal testing is a complex issue. On the one hand, there is the importance of such testing in the field of science and health as well as safety testing.
On the other hand, no matter what reasons motivate the testing, it is hard to disregard the ethical issue that forces itself- inflicting pain onto animals. For this, we find arguments for and against animal testing. Somewhere between this somewhat push and pull, legislation has been developing in various countries to put some restrictions on animal testing.
This is creating some ground for a compromise between the necessity to use animals and the ethical responsibility not to abuse them. The way animal testing is conducted is changing as animal-friendly groups are lobbying for tougher control on the discipline. However, it does not seem that animal testing would stop any time soon for the mere reason that there is barely any alternative.
Hopefully, scientific and technical advanced would help substitute animals. Indeed a 2008 article of the Daily Telegraph (Fleming, 2008) has predicted that animal testing for chemicals may be banished within ten years thanks to some technical advance.
Scientists have discovered a screening technique that may substitute animal testing. Such novelty makes it probable that sometime in the future, animal testing would be diminished to a minimum, even though total substitution would be really hard to accomplish.
About Animal Testing (2009). Biomedical Research and Animal Testing.
European Commission. (2006). EU and chemicals industry set to cut animal testing, CIS Chemical Business, 1 (25), p4.
Fleming Nic (14 February 2008). Testing chemicals on animals may be banned in decade, Daily telegraph.
Lancet. (2004). Animal research is a source of human compassion, not shame (editorial), Lancet, 364 (9437), p815-816.
Orlans, F. Barbara. (1993). In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation. New York: Oxford University Press (US).
SA’AR, Gideon (Jul 2007). Knesset Bans Cosmetic Testing In Israel. Soap, Perfumery & Cosmetics, 80 (7), p9.
Stop Animal Test (2009). Animal Testing 101, Stop Animal Test, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (organization).
Woolley, Adam. (2003). A Guide to Practical Toxicology: Evaluation, Prediction and Risk. New York: Taylor & Francis.