Animal Testing Statistics and Perspectives

In light of the recent discussion on animal testing and animal rights I thought a few additional points would be valuable. It is a fact that animal testing leads to some necessary medical advances that save lives. Anyone who would say differently doesn't have the slightest clue what they're talking about and should be dismissed out of hand. The question is an issue of how many, especially given the ethical concerns. It is also a fact that the vast majority of animal testing serves more peripheral goals, categorized as applied studies that include cosmetic, chemical and pharmaceutical testing, and that there is a strong financial incentive to maintain the status quo.

For example, a few years ago The Independent published some facts and figures concerning vivisection in the UK:

The medicine
  • All drugs licensed for use in Britain have been tested on animals.
  • The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry estimates it takes between 10 and 12 years to develop a new medicine and costs £350m.
  • The industry invested £3.2bn in UK research in 2002, accounting for nearly a quarter of all industrial research and development.
  • Pharmaceutical exports were £10.03bn last year, a trade surplus of £2.6bn.
  • Some 70,000 people are employed in the pharmaceuticals industry, with 250,000 other jobs in related industries.
  • Twelve of the medicines most prescribed by GPs were created in Britain.
  • In its defence, the pharmaceutical industry estimates that individual medicines now cost 12 per cent less in real terms than they did 10 years ago. But the total NHS drugs bill has more than doubled from £3bn to £6bn.

The cosmetics

  • Testing of cosmetics on animals was outlawed in Britain in two phases between 1997-98.
  • Campaigners say animal research for cosmetics is now done overseas, much in the US.
  • Household products are still tested on animals in Britain. In the Draize Eye Test, irritants are dripped into the eyes of rabbits.
  • Non-toxic procedures account for 82 per cent of all animal tests in Britain.
  • Of toxicological tests last year, 61 per cent were for pharmacological safety and efficiency.
  • The Medical Research Council applies the three Rs in funding animal research: reducing the number used in study, replacing animals in experiments, and refining tests to minimise suffering.
  • Estimates show 38,000 animals are killed in the EU in cosmetic tests. As of 2013, marketing animal-tested cosmetics will be banned in Europe.

The statistics on primates in particular can be seen in the following graphs from the 2006 BUAV report (pdf) based on information from the Home Office:

Numbers and types of procedures on new
world monkeys, Britain, 1995 - 2004

Numbers and types of procedures on old
world monkeys, Britain, 1995 - 2004

The regulations on animal testing in Britain and the European Union are far more stringent than in the United States. What we should do about this is an important public policy issue and needs to be discussed without resorting to an "Us vs. Them" mentality.

I congratulate Janet Stemwedel for working to create dialogue on this issue. If more people (on all sides) would consider how to reach a common ground, rather than insisting that there can only be one way to move forward, I think we can create a sensible animal testing policy. My own view is that we should eliminate all testing on Great Apes as soon as possible as proposed under the bipartisan House Bill HR 1326 The Great Ape Protection Act that is currently before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. We should also conduct a review on the use of primates in general, the same way that the European Union has been engaged in for the last couple of years.

I have been informed on this issue by the same researchers that originally inspired many of us to enter a career in science in the first place. Below are just a few quotes from some these scientists.

Humans--who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals--have had an understandable penchant for pretending that animals do not feel pain. On whether we should grant some modicum of rights to other animals, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham stressed that the question was not how smart they are, but how much torment they can feel. Darwin was haunted by this issue:

"In the agony of death a dog has been known to caress his master, and every one has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection, who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless the operation was fully justified by an increase of our knowledge, or unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt remorse to the last hour of his life."

From all criteria available to us--the recognizable agony in the cries of wounded animals, for example, including those who usually utter hardly a sound--this question seems moot. The limbic system in the human brain, known to be responsible for too much of the richness of our emotional life, is prominent throughout the mammals. The same drugs that alleviate suffering in humans mitigate the cries and other signs of pain in many other animals. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer.

Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, pp. 371-372.

The speciesist assumption that lurks here is very simple. Humans are humans and gorillas are animals. There is an unquestioned yawning gulf between them such that the life of a single human child is worth more than the lives of all the gorillas in the world. The 'worth' of an animal's life is just its replacement cost to its owner -- or, in the case of a rare species, to humanity. But tie the label Homo sapiens even to a tiny piece of insensible, embryonic tissue, and its life suddenly leaps to infinite, uncomputable value.

This way of thinking characterises what I want to call the discontinuous mind.

Richard Dawkins, "Gaps in the Mind," In The Great Ape Project, pp. 81-87

Then ask yourself why those apes are on exhibition in cages, and why other apes are being used for medical experiments, while it is not permissible to do either of those things to humans. Suppose it turned out that chimps shared 99.9 per cent of their genes with us, and that the important differences between humans and chimps were due to just a few genes. Would you still think it is okay to put chimps in cages and to experiment on them? Consider those unfortunate mentally impaired people who have much less capacity to solve problems, to care for themselves, to communicate, to engage in social relationships and to feel pain, than do apes. What is the logic that forbids medical experiments on those people, but not on apes?

Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee, p. 15.

We come up, again and again, against that non-existent barrier that is, for so many, so real - the barrier between 'man' and 'beast'. It was erected in ignorance, as a result of the arrogant assumption, unfortunately shared by vast numbers of people, that humans are superior to nonhumans in every way. Even if nonhuman beings are rational and can suffer and feel pain and despair it does not matter how we treat them provided it is for the good of humanity - which apparently includes our own pleasure. They are not members of that exclusive club that opens its doors only to bona fide Homo sapiens.

This is why we find double standards in the legislation regarding medical research. Thus while it is illegal to perform medical experiments on a brain-dead human being who can neither speak nor feel, it is legally acceptable to perform them on an alert, feeling and highly intelligent chimpanzee. Conversely, while it is legally permitted to imprison an innocent chimpanzee, for life, in a steel-barred, barren laboratory cell measuring five foot by five foot by seven foot, a psychopathic mass murderer must be more spaciously confined. And these double standards exist only because the brain-dead patient and the mass murderer are human.

Jane Goodall, "Chimpanzees - Bridging the Gap," in The Great Ape Project, pp. 10-18.


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@EMJ: Thank you for this instructive post and the quotations. It's nice to know that there's an alternative to Orac's nervous rants on this subject. Don't get me wrong: I do understand that he's pissed about the AR terrorists, as is anyone with a conscience. However, he seems to dump all people who advocate for better treatment of animals in one boat: the AR extremist boat.

However, he seems to dump all people who advocate for better treatment of animals in one boat: the AR extremist boat.

I read Orac's blog all the time. You've just engaged in hyperbole to the point of lying...

Could you please stop misusing the term "vivisection"?

@Brian: Click the link. That's the same way The Independent uses it.

Thanks Eric, once again.

It deserves repetition that when we are discussing the use of primates as involuntary laboratory test subjects we enter two different intellectual worlds, the wildlife world and the 'beings most close to humans' world. These spheres are different, but as in a Venn diagram, they intersect in the context of these animals being used as laboratory subjects.

1. Wildlife. The wild, natural populations of primates and esp. great apes, chimpanzees and bonobos are being gobbled up, flattened and destroyed at a frightening and accelerating rate and their very existence as naturally living beings is now in dire straits due to habitat loss and poaching and all of the ancillary factors which affect apex mammals which require large amounts of undisturbed habitat to survive (think wolves).

2. Closeness to humans. As Eric notes, chimps and bonobos have a cognitive equivalency to young humans, the kids whose nursery school and kindergarten drawings, poems, songs and plays we proudly display to their grandparents and everyone we meet.

This is the factual terrain we must accept when discussing the issue of why "we" would even consider subjecting and consigning primates to the barren, short and painful life as a laboratory test subject. As Eric says, it is a difficult topic, but that only means we must redouble our efforts to resolve it now. Unlike us, these animals don't have the luxury to wait for us to get off our collective keister.

@Moses: It is just a general feeling I got from reading his posts, not an attempt to distort anything. If I am wrong, please correct me.

Little bit off topic but your graphs really bother me. I know you didn't craft them but they are deliberately slanted so that they give truthful information while completely skewing how people visually respond to them. It is a fairly dirty trick.

@5 Douglas. Two points.

First, the primates used in medical research are either captive bred, for example chimpanzees, or come from non-endangered populations such, for example macaques, baboons and squirrel monkeys.

Second, since when has "closeness to humans" or intellectual ability (sentience and /or sapience) been the only criterion for deciding whether it is ethical to undertake involuntary research on a subject, human or otherwise?

Jim: You've probably only read his recent posts on the subject. He hasn't brought it up in a while, but I do remember him talking passionately on the subject of animal welfare. He's in favor of it. It's the terrorism (and the propaganda which accompanies it) which he's upset with.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

@4 EMJ; because we all know news organizations always present scientific research and terminology precisely in the same manner researchers use them and understand them.


Your use of the term "animal testing" is deceptive. For example, it's pretty safe to say that no primates were used in any of the activities listed from a newspaper (your use of a newspaper as source material is laughable for one who claims to be a primatologist, btw).

Then you go on to show bar graphs of primate use. Virtually all of them are used in research, not testing.

Why are you trying to confuse the public by conflating research and testing, Eric? Do you not know the difference yourself?

@Jared: Agreed. However, this may be a cultural difference between Britain and the US in this case since that appears to be a common way to refer to the practice in the UK. Also, as I wrote before:

My Oxford American Dictionary has this definition:

vivisection |ËvivÉËsek sh Én|

the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research.

ORIGIN early 18th cent.: from Latin vivus âliving,â on the pattern of dissection.

At some point the term was dropped within the sciences (presumably because it had gained a negative connotation after many of the less than ethical practices in the 18th and 19th centuries) and is now used primarily by those opposed to live animal experimentation.

the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research.

"Operations", interesting. I checked Stedman's Medical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, the American Heritage Science Dictionary, heck, I even checked Wikipedia and I was unable to find any definition for vivisection that did not include the word "cutting" or "surgery". This is not surprising, really, since the origin of the word is not from the Latin vivus "on the pattern of dissection", it is a compound formed from the Latin vivus "living" and from the Latin sectio "cutting, cutting off"; cutting the living.

Attempting to describe any old animal testing as "vivisection" is like describing all methods of birth control as methods of preemptive abortion, it's misleading and it's incredibly inflammatory. Finding "support" in one definition picked from one dictionary is no excuse for repeatedly using such an incendiary term so cavalierly. Dictionaries are descriptive of how words are used and misused. Hell, if you picked your dictionary carefully you could even find nuclear pronounced "noo-kyuh-ler", but that wouldn't make it correct.

One might get the impression that you are intentionally attempting to inflame the situation by obstinately refusing to be more circumspect in your choice of words.

"Vivisection" seems, to me, to imply "awake animal, no pain relief", in a way that isn't implied by "surgery".

"Vivisection" also has an archaic tone, which implies archaic standards of animal care.

Would you not object to a pet undergoing surgery, but object to an identical procedure being performed as "vivisection" in order to learn how to do the surgery in the first place?

And those fun-house-mirror graphs are freaking horrible, and not created by anyone trying to give straight answers.

I'll also note that the BUAV report includes a photo captioned "Brain damaged Marmoset at Cambridge University ©BUAV".

The animal picture is indistinguishable from a "Marmoset recovering from lifesaving tumor removal surgery". It's just "ooh, look, cute monkey with sutures! BAD" Furthermore, you can't tell from a picture how well the animal is being cared for, how often the vets check on it, what level of painkillers are in its system, whether it's actually in pain, or really anything relevant.

Post-op pictures, human or animal, look nasty, eliciting an emotional response that may not be justified. Just because something looks nasty, it doesn't mean it feels nasty.

I've seen other animal rights writings which exaggerate things completely out of proportion. One described a monkey in a vision study as having a tube 'attached to its mouth'. The tubes aren't 'attached' to the monkey, they're placed there, like when your dentist hangs a suction tube over your lip to suck up the saliva. Only less painful because the suction tube sometimes gloms onto your tongue, which hurts, while the reward tube provides apple juice.

The BUAV report also has this lovely quote: "Animal care staff almost inevitably become desensitised to the suffering or distress of the animals they look after"

Some proof would be nice, but I doubt they have any.

To some extent any "desensitization" might be from learning, from experience, what just *looks* bad, and what actually *is* bad.

But I would also suggest that pediatric doctors and nurses also become desensitized to the suffering or distress of their patients. How else could they subject the kids to surgery? Or painful physical therapy? It must be sheer hell to work in a pediatric burn unit if you're overly sensitive. I couldn't do it. Doesn't mean they don't care about their charges or treat them poorly.

Finally, that BUAV report, from 2006, relies an awful lot on anecdotes from the early and mid 90s.

I guess things got better, but their income relies on presenting the situation as being as dire as ever.

@Calli Arcale: I did not read his older posts. He's a very prolific blogger and blogs a lot so I have a lot to catch up on. It's probably going to take me years to read all of the Orac literature. Just reading the most recent ones on animal rights terrorism had given me the impression that he's some kind of uncaring mechanist. I shouldn't have made the mistake of extrapolating. Thanks for the heads up.

I agree with John L that it is difficult to tell from a photo exactly how an animal is being treated or what level of pain (if any) that animal is experiencing.

The goal should be to minimise suffering, and to learn how to recognise and respond to pain.

"Since when has "closeness to humans" or intellectual ability (sentience and /or sapience) been the only criterion for deciding whether it is ethical to undertake involuntary research on a subject, human or otherwise?" -- Paul Browne.

First, as you well know, all involuntary research on humans is illegal. Regarding non-humans, this is a response to the argument first made by abusers (of all stripes and persuasions) that all animal abuse, no matter how heinous, is allowed simply because animals are not human and have no "rights." That ship has long sailed, and to check it, just try to kill your neighbor's cat, or your own cat, for the sheer fun of it.

If you take the time to examine the legislative history of animal welfare laws in your state, your town, or your country you will find a wealth of closely argued moral and ethical analysis which answers your question. There's no need for me to re-invent the wheel.

First, the primates used in medical research are either captive bred, for example chimpanzees, or come from non-endangered populations such, for example macaques, baboons and squirrel monkeys.

Non-endangered for how long? Nobody in the 1970s thought that wild chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan populations would now be near extinction, which they are. Oops !!! Never saw that coming. Sorry. We bad.

It is axiomatic, from the perspective of maintaining a viable wild population, that actively removing members of the population from the population to be put in laboratories decreases the size and fitness of the extant wild population. From the wild population's perspective, taking them for research is no different than a poacher shooting them. So taking wild primates for research = just shooting them. Eventually, when you factor in poaching and habitat destruction as well, you end up running out of monkeys. And unfortunately, captive-reared monkeys cannot be released back into the wild with any hope of them re-acclimating. It's a one way street.

All primate research, aside from any ethical concerns for the welfare of individual monkey, rests upon the presumption that there are still plenty of monkeys "out there" and this level of plenitude will continue ad infinitum no matter what we do to them. The opposite is true. Just ask the passenger pigeon.

Douglas Watts "First, as you well know, all involuntary research on humans is illegal. "

Not some reading up on consent in emergency medicine. What was that you were saying about exceptions.

As to your statements about endangered species, you really are adept at moving the goalposts. First you nail your colours to the ESA, but when I show how it only applies to sopecies that are endangered (so the Red wolf is protected but the Gray wolf isn't) you immediately shift to possible future endangerment.

Your claim that "Nobody in the 1970s thought that wild chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan populations would now be near extinction" is also untrue. IN 1976 the US government placed Chimpanzees on a list of "Threatened" species likely to "......become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.". I haven't checked the other species you name but would not be surprised if the same applies to them.

For somebody so keen to ram "settled law" down out collective throats you show a remarkable ignorence of it.

Society chooses what is moral and immoral, Governing bodies say what is ethical. Lets say that during WWII when the Nazi's were doing horrific studies on the Jews, they happened upon the cure for all types of cancer. Would you be willing to use it even thought the information was gained unethically? One might even say that the Nazi's governing body found no reason to call what they were doing to the Jews unethical. Since the governing body says it was ok, it must have been. right?

If unethical treatment in animals produces information used to better the lives of the human race should we conduct that research or use the findings.

I feel that there are things we know have negative consequences. Spraying hairspray into the eyes of mice or rats is wrong I think. We know it hurts and whatever knowledge gained by a study like that is, in my opinion, not worth doing that to the animals.

It starts getting complicated when stats are introduced. A statistician can paint what ever picture they want by manipulating how it's presented.

What is also notable, and I apologise if this has already been stated, but it is often not, is that human medicine cannot be reliably based on even primates, let alone any other species. It is true that over 99% of our DNA are held in common with chimpanzees but, to put this in [perspective, 60% of our DNA is common to bananas and 50% with cabbages. Needless to say 60% of human diseases will not be cured by banana experiments. As far as chimpanzees go they do nto get HIV AIDS, malaria, hepatitis to name afew disease which kill millions of humans each year, they can be given polio only via the respiratory system whereas humans get it via the digestive system, this delayed polio research by 29 years, can consume strychnine without ill effect and do not get lung cancer from smoking. This is the BEST animal for human research, the rest are even poorer models.

Humans now have 30,000 (thirty thousand) diseases. One would think that with 60 million animals a year being killed in medical 'research' (and billions of dollars spent) they could cure just one of them.

How did we end up with so many diseases? Well exposure to adn consumption of hundreds of thousands of artificial substances amy be a contributing factor. Yet, theses substances, along with strychnine, cyanide, arsenic, hemlock, botulin, asbestos, DDT, benzene, HIV infected blood and cigarettes to name a few, all pass animal 'tests'. In reality the only health being protected here is the financial health of soem very powerful industries, particularly the pharmaceutical (side effects from which are the fourth largest killer in teh USA) and petro chemical industries. The fact that their products pass animal 'tests' has traditionally been an effective legal defence.

Real scientific methods do exist and they are faster and cheaper. The problem is that they would show these products to be harmful rather than 'safe'. See or

"The best guess for the correlation of adverse toxic reactions between human and animal data is somewhere between 5% and 25%" and "90% of our work is done for legal and not for scientific reasons", Dr Ralph Haywood, former scientific director of Huntington Life Sciences