The reasons why animal testing persists are often not scientific but conservatism within the scientific establishment and the bureaucratic hurdles to implementing and enforcing the use of alternative methods. Here are some examples of the changes we support to help move society away from animal testing.
The scientific community is on the whole resistant to change. This might seem counter-intuitive but it is well known that scientists tend to work within a certain scientific ‘comfort zone’ or paradigm. Currently animal tests are part of the paradigm by which we test drugs, chemicals and ideas. A sea-change in attitude both towards animals ethically and scientifically needs to happen. A few things can help this along:
(A European pharmaceutical company initiative challenging the regulatory requirement for acute toxicity studies in pharmaceutical drug development. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 2008; 50: 345-52 Committee on toxicity testing and Assessment of environmental agents (2007) Toxicity Testing in the Twenty-first Century: A Vision and a Strategy. National Academy of Sciences, USA.)
The development of and use of new and existing non-animal alternative methods should be encouraged in the following ways:
It is often purported that animal experiments undergo a rigorous ethical review and that they would not be allowed if the benefit to humans was not greater than the suffering inflicted on the animals. Although, the BUAV does not accept the premise that harm to animals can be balanced against benefits to humans, nonetheless the cost: benefit assessment that is currently undertaken is rudimentary at best and always skewed against the animals. The BUAV believes that ethical reviews at both the government and local level should be more transparent, more inclusive, more detailed, more balanced and more thorough.
Bans as a matter of ethical principle such as those on great apes or for cosmetics purposes did not rely on the availability of alternatives but were implemented due to public concern about animal suffering. The principle should be extended to the many other areas where there is particular concern about the use of animals, such as experiments for household products, weapons, recreational drugs, food additives or those that cause severe suffering or involve non-human primates. Such bans would encourage a move towards a more humane way of behaving towards other animals as well as speed up the development of alternatives.
The value to science, medicine and human society of ceasing to use animals needs to be appreciated.
Financial incentives can help, as can targets for reduction in animal numbers or outright bans on certain animal species or categories of experiments. A tax on animal experiments may help not only fund alternatives but deter researchers from the use of animals. Imminent bans, for example on non-human primate use, provide focus for the development of alternatives. It is widely accepted that the ban on the use of cosmetics, which happened without all alternatives being in place, has led to a significant increase in investment in alternatives and their subsequent development. The cosmetics industry has not been deterred from being innovative.