Around half of animal experiments in the UK take place in universities. International organisation The Animal Justice Project recently launched its Campus Without Cruelty campaign in an attempt to tackle this issue. The group has organised demonstrations at three major universities to highlight their use of animals.
I went along to the University of Bristol demo on October 1st, which was attended by around 70 people. The demo was very visual – we stood silently, half-covering our faces with images of the animals experimented on at the university. Leaflets were also handed out. View photos from the event on Facebook.
The University of Bristol has come under fire for its lack of transparency regarding the experiments it performs. It refuses to disclose the species and quantity of animals it uses, claiming it doesn’t keep centralised records. By looking at scientific papers produced by the university, it’s been ascertained that they’re experimenting on mice, birds, pigs, rabbits, cats, ferrets and frogs. This raises some questions – if outsiders can find this information, why does the university claim not to have it? And if they really aren’t keeping centralised records of the animals they use, why not?
Research done by the Animal Justice Project indicates that well over a million animals are used in UK universities every year. 90% of these experiments are curiosity-driven – in other words, they don’t have clinical application. According to Cruelty Free International, experiments conducted at universities in 2014 included depriving monkeys of food and water, trapping them and blasting them with loud noise, injecting rats with acid to cause brain damage, and forcing rats to swim in cylinders of water for ten minutes before killing and dissecting them. Pregnant sheep were injected with testosterone and had their ovaries punctured. Implants were put in the brains of animals of various species. These experiments are often funded by the taxpayer.
From a scientific point of view, it’s long been demonstrated that animals make poor predictive models. This means that testing a drug on an animal is unlikely to have the same outcome as testing it on a human. Anatomically and physiologically, animals are just too different from us, and the highly-controlled lab environment fails to mimic the variation in human environments. In practice, animal testing can be dangerous; one study found animal tests missed 81% of the serious side-effects of drugs that later harmed patients. Cancer has been curable in mice for decades, but none of the cures found work on humans. The reverse may also be true – drugs which harm some animals may not cause problems in humans, so we’re potentially missing out on effective medications. For example, penicillin and aspirin are dangerous to some species. If they were discovered now, they’d likely be dismissed as unsafe for human use.
As previously mentioned, most animal experiments done in universities are for basic research rather than the prediction of human outcomes. This means they have little practical use, with just five percent leading to the commercial development of a drug. This raises ethical questions – is it really acceptable to injure and kill animals for minimal gain?
Many, myself included, argue that animal experimentation can never be ethical. It can only be justified by claiming humans are superior to animals, and I’ve yet to hear a logical argument to support this. Even if we were somehow superior, I don’t believe it would entitle us to harm, kill and exploit animals for our own gain. In the words of Professor Charles R. Magel, “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals and the answer is: ‘Because animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.” Watch this video series to learn more about the effectiveness and ethics of animal testing.
Much of the information in this post comes from the fully referenced Campus Without Cruelty briefing, which you can read by clicking below.
You can also apply to be a volunteer for the Animal Justice Project here.