I’ve been on the sidelines the past few weeks as the lab has engaged in a massive animal study. This one has become so big that a large portion of the staff has been dedicated to it full time for the past three weeks. I’d been wanting to comment on the use of animals in laboratory experiments for a while now. I’ll state that I, personally, am not against using animals for experiments. I’m not a vegetarian and I don’t disagree with eating animals or animal products. There is, however, a line that needs to be respected. We humans have been domesticating animals for centuries. Historically, we used to respect and appreciate the burden that animals bare in providing food, labor, and other materials for us. We’ve forgotten this, however, and take it for granted at our own peril.
Animal studies are vital for health sciences. A quick search of papers on Thompson Reuters Web of Science for “animal studies” returns over eighty thousand results (1). Undoubtedly there have been more than ten times this number of studies conducted over the past century, likely millions. Animal studies are a crucial part of the FDA’s approval process in pre-clinical trials (2). Animal testing allowed the United States to avoid the complications of thalidomide induced birth defects by strongly influencing their decision to prevent its sale in the US. Additionally, studies on animals have produced numerous vaccines and therapies that greatly improved human health. We should be more grateful for the sacrifices that other species have born to advance our own.
Despite all of these facts, there are those who conduct animal experiments with indifference bordering on malice. To some, animals in these studies are no more than a number. An egregious example comes from the recent allegations against Santa Cruz Biotechnologies (3). I’ll go on record again to say I am not a fan of this company’s business practices. Under pressure from the USDA to prove that their animal handling facilities were up to standards several thousand of their animals “vanished”. These animals have not been found but one can guess what has likely happened to them. Again, while I am not against eating animals or using them for laboratory testing I am not for the wholesale killing of huge numbers of animals, especially to potentially hide the misdeeds of a few people. The death of an animal in a study needs to be balanced out with the usefulness of the study for human health. Money should not be the only factor!
There are standards in place to ensure that animals are respected and not killed with wanton abandon. Every university and institution that wants to get funding from the government (which is all of them for the most part), must develop an Internal Review Board to examine animal studies. You need to show the IRB that your studies require animals. Performing experiments on the animals you are studying is the only way to answer important health questions. The IRB also audits and oversees the studies to ensure that minimal harm comes to the animals. I feel that some might not realize that these standards were put place by scientists who do respect animals understand their importance to human beings. I admit, there are a few have lost sight of this fact. We all need to realize when we’ve crossed the line and forgotten just how important animals are to us.
As always thanks for reading and feel free to comment!
(1) Web of Science Accessed April 25, 2016. http://apps.webofknowledge.com/Search.do?product=UA&SID=4FMm14tlwI4DZfVpa92&search_mode=GeneralSearch&prID=9b6bba28-3b5f-4509-ba77-25b126ae7312
(3) Reardon, S. Thousands of goats and rabbits vanish from major biotech lab. Nature February 19, 2016.