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Laboratory experimentation on animals is a messy, degrading, downright disgusting business, and it doesn't achieve even half of the objectives it's meant to. Here, in a piece he has subtitled Hell On Earth, Dr Robert Sharpe, a leading authority on the subject of anti-vivisection, writes exclusively for Club Sandwich, painting a gruesome - but true - picture of what goes on

            Every year millions of animals suffer and die in the world's laboratories. They are burned, blinded, poisoned, irradiated and starved, given electric shocks, made to smoke cigarettes and become addicted to drugs; their limbs are surgically removed and their brains damaged; they are deprived of sleep, kept in solitary confinement and inflicted with diseases like cancer, diabetes, herpes and AIDS. For many animals, the experimental laboratory must be hell on earth.
            Mice, rats, hamsters, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, monkeys, sheep, pigs and fish are just some of the animals widely used, while products tested include medicines, cosmetics, food additives, pesticides, and household and industrial substances. Animals are also used for weapons and space research, in psychological and behavioural experiments, and for educational purposes. In medical research, symptoms or diseases are artificially induced in animals in the hope that the resulting "animal model" of human illness somehow resembles the situation in sick people.
            In the new and disturbing field of genetic engineering, commercial pressures carry the threat of yet more animal suffering. By inserting genes from humans or animals into the living tissues of other species, scientists are able to produce entirely new (transgenic) animals which they hope to patent, thereby ensuring monopoly rights on their sale. Apart from the prospect of increasing farm animal production, for instance by making bigger species, transgenic animals have two other major business applications: in producing new strains of laboratory animals for medical and pharmaceutical research, and as "drug factories" to produce Pharmaceuticals more cheaply than by conventional means. Already Harvard scientists, sponsored by Dupont Corporation, have patented the "oncomouse", an animal that quickly develops cancer. This unfortunate creature was developed by inserting human cancer genes into the embryos of mice.
Students experimenting on a rabbit at the National University of Mexico Students experimenting on a rabbit at the National University of Mexico

            In Britain, scientists often claim that animals are protected by strict legislation. Despite this, Government statistics reveal that every year around 3 million "protected" animals undergo experiments "likely to cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm". In fact, much of the relevant legislation - the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 - is a clever confidence trick, for it is the researchers who are actually protected. Without the protection of licences issues under the Act, vivisectors would be liable to prosecution under general anti-cruelty laws just like everyone else who causes unnecessary suffering.
            Tragically, many experimenters fail to address crucial ethical and scientific objections to their work. Most people would oppose painful experiments on unconsenting human beings who had no prospect of individual benefit. What, then, is the quality animals lack which justifies their exploitation in laboratory tests? Differences such as strength, intelligence, language, physical skills and appearance are entirely arbitrary and also occur within the human species. So could it be, like disadvantaged groups within our own society, that animals simply lack the power of effective protest?
            Neither can animal research withstand scientific scrutiny. With results only relevant to the species under test, there is the constant risk of misleading predictions since people and animals often respond quite differently to drugs and disease. For instance, common treatments found in the family medicine cupboard, such as aspirin and paracetamol, are highly poisonous to cats. In contrast, many drugs which seemed safe in animals have been withdrawn or restricted in their use following the causal of dangerous side-effects in people. Examples include aminorex, benoxaprofen, chloramphenicol, phenylbutazone, practolol, prenylamine, suprofen, tycrynafen, and zimelidine. Overall, there is only a 5-25% correlation between harmful drug effects in people and the results of animal experiments.
            Vivisection is also an error because it diverts attention and resources from more reliable sources of information. The consequences can be devastating. Unsuccessful attempts to induce lung cancer in laboratory animals, by forcing them to breathe tobacco smoke, cast doubt on human observations, delaying health warnings for years. The carcinogenic effect of asbestos was similarly doubted because for decades it proved impossible to replicate the disease in animals. And reliance on monkey experiments rather than human clinical studies held back polio research for at least 25 years.
            Those who campaign against animal experiments are often asked "But what is the alternative?" With animal researchers insisting that there is no alternative, it naturally comes as a surprise to learn that vivisection is but one method of research: there are others. These include human epidemiological studies (in which researchers monitor groups of people to discover the causes of ill health), clinical observation of patients who are ill or who have died, work with healthy volunteers, test-tube experiments with human tissues and computer simulation of biological systems. Such methods not only avoid animal suffering, they also produce results of direct relevance to people.
            The proof that animals are not necessary for medical research comes from those examples where scientists, for whatever reason, have not been able to use animals. In these cases scientists do not give up their research but simply devise or adopt other approaches. For instance, the use of animals to test the potency of vaccines is traditional but such an approach is of no value in assessing pneumonia vaccines because the causal organisms are generally not virulent for laboratory animals. As a result, scientists devised an alternative method based upon chemical analysis and studies of human volunteers.
            Opposition to the use of animals is growing and people can make a difference. Since the 1980s, when animal protection groups focused public pressure on the Draize rabbit eye test, attitudes have changed dramatically. Within a decade, 60 test-tube alternatives were either in use or under development, and some companies stopped using rabbits to test for eye irritancy. This success is also reflected in government statistics which show a substantial fall in the use of these animals.
            People can also exert influence by insisting on "cruelty-free" cosmetics and household products, and by donating only to medical charities who avoid animal experiments. Another important initiative is Animal Aid's "Humane Research Donor Card" scheme which is designed to increase the amount of human tissue available for research and testing. Human tissue is very much a neglected alternative to animal experiments and researchers cite lack of availability as the chief obstacle. Animal Aid is calling for more tissue banks so its donor card scheme can reach its full potential.
            Animal rights organisations are also putting great emphasis on education, for the students of today are the researchers of tomorrow. If there is to be a more enlightened future it must come from them.

            Useful addresses:
            Animal Aid, The Old Chapel, Bradford Street, Tonbridge, England TN9 1AW
            British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 16a Crane Grove, London, England N7 8LB
            The American Anti-Vivisection Society, 801 Old York Rd, #204, Jenkintown, PA, USA 19046-1685