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About Animal Testing

As animal testing has been practiced, debate over issues in animal experimentation remains a concern. This guide reviews the historical experimentation of animal use and the opposing viewpoints of animal treatments. In addition, it aims to raise awareness and consideration for research animals by presenting specialized statistics which are conducted by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) for better understanding of animal use in Canada. The last section of the guide highlights the efforts made towards finding alternatives to animal experimentation, and it is given for guiding the CCAC’s constituents and the general public in order to move on in the future.

Animal Testing

Animal testing is known as using non-human animals in research and development projects. According to the recorded history, experimentation on living animals has been practiced as far back as 500 BC, as what professor Monamy(1958) mentioned:

“Live animals, both human and non-human, appear to have been first used in ancient times principally to satisfy anatomical curiosity. In the third century BC, the Alexandrian physicians Herophilus and Erisistratus are recorded as having examined functional differences between sensory nerves, motor nerves and tendons” (p.2).

Professor Woods (1999) wrote that it has been more than two thousand years for people to use animals for testing. For example, in the seventh Century China, early Chinese scientists made medications from pigs, deer, sheep and the forth. Besides, a Roman scholar (born about A.D 24), an Arab scientist (in the ninth Century) and Italy doctors were mentioned to use animals for studying the structure of the animals’ bodies, the human bodies and the vaccines development. Moreover, in the 20th Century, as new medicines and techniques such as open-heart surgery, radiation treatment and organ transplants developed, animal experimentation was an effective and common method for testing the results (pp.8-10).

However, the anti-vivisection activities have been going on for centuries. Some antivivisectionists pointed out that, though animals cannot talk in the same way as human beings, they have their own way to think and feel. Therefore, animals should be treated as human beings and should not be in experiments at all. As a result, many groups were formed to work for animal rights and be against the unethical treatment of animals in the 20th Century (Woods 1999, pp.15-17).

Animal Testing is not a new concern, and it remains controversial as it involves animals suffering pain of injury, being burned or poisoned, and sometimes being killed. For this reason, animal testing is called into question:

1. How animals are used in scientific testing?

2. Why does animal testing continue to be controversial?

3. What could scientists do for improving ethical animal experimentation?

How animals are used in scientific testing?

Historically, animals were common used in medicines and psychological research. In the recent years, animals have been widespread used to different fields, such as makeup, shampoo, housecleaners and the like (Woods 1999, pp.8-10). In 2011, 3,333,689 animals were reported to the CCAC as used in science, including research, teaching and testing. The data conducted by the CCAC in 2011, presented valuable information to gain a better understanding of the animal use in science in Canada; it covered the number of animals used in science by type at CCAC-certified institutions and the proportion of animals used at CCAC-certified institutions for each purpose of animal use (2011, pp2,6) (See Table 1, Pie 1, pages 5&6 of the guide).

The table focuses on the number of animal used in science by type at CCAC-certified institutions in 2011. As the table pointed out, the three most-used animal types were fish (1,300,259), mice (1,090,730) and rats (225,971), accounted for 39.0%, 32.7% and 6.8% of the total.

The pie shows the proportion of animals used at CCAC-certified institutions for each purpose of animal use in 2011. Based on the pie, the highest proportion of animals used were for fundamental studies, accounted for 61% of the total, while 16.2% of these animals were used for medical and veterinary purposes. In addition, other three proportions of animals used were: 7.8% for regulatory testing, 10.3% for development of products and 4.7% for education and training.

Apparently, fish were the first most commonly used experimental animals in Canada in 2011.

“From the researcher’s point of view, fish provide simpler systems for the study of complex processes. Because fish are small, inexpensive, and relatively easy to house, they have become a ‘convenient’ test subject for many scientists”. For example, zebra fish have been used to study the development of sensory systems, and were also among a variety of fish used to determine how the kidney develops and functions” (N. Mak 2008).

Undoubtedly, animals share similarities to human beings in many ways. As the article titled Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues mentioned, “Chimpanzees share 99% of their DNA with humans, and mice are 98% genetically similar to humans” (2014). Therefore, animals can be used for varieties of purposes for scientific testing.

(Note: the sources are retrieved from the CCAC Animal Use Statistic 2011.)

Why does animal testing continue to be controversial?

Some people consider that animal testing is ethical as there was a very old belief pointed out that human beings are more important than other creatures because only humans can think. Therefore, humans have rights to use animals if they want (Woods 1999, p.7). Thomas Aquinas, an important Christian thinker thought that animals and have no rights because of the lack of souls, same as what professor Monamy(1958) mentioned in his book:

“Three hundred years earlier, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) had declared in his Summa Theologiae that humans were unique; all other animals were incapable of rationality because they possessed no mind. Only humans had a soul and the power to reason. Without a soul, non-human animals were merely objects, devoid of personality or rights” (pp.9-10).

In addition, from some scientists’ point of view, animal experimentation can benefit human beings in many ways. According to the visuals conducted by the CCAC, in 2010, the high proportions of animals were used for fundamental research to broaden knowledge of essential physiological structures, functions and animal behaviors. Besides, animals were also used for medical or clinical studies to deal with human or animal diseases and disorders. Moreover, in regulatory testing such as testing the efficacy of a new medication, in the development of products or in education and training, animals were essential models as experimental targets to contribute to the development of many cures and treatments (2014, p.3).

In contrast, some opponents consist that animals are equal to humans because animals experience life exactly as human beings regardless of intelligence. Due to the similarities between species, animals have rights to be treated with respect and may not be killed or imprisoned for no reason (Cothran 2002, pp.31-33). Thus, even if animal experimentation has enabled the development in different areas, opponents of animal testing regard that it is cruel and inhuman because animals suffer from the experimentation while they are commonly forced fed, forced into inhalation and the like. (Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues 2014). Furthermore, even the supporters of vivisection often declare that animals are well protected by the law, the usual anti-cruelty laws are not applicable when undergoing the experimentations. (Cothran 2002, p.122).

What could scientists do for improving ethical animal experimentation?

Instead of the unethical animal experimentation, alternative methods were appealed to be considered. As the three R’s written by the two scientists, William Russell and Rex Burch in the 1950s, it provided guidelines for the effective conduct of animal testing. To be specific, the first R is replacement. For example, the use of in-vitro techniques, and the use of less-(or non-)sentient organisms are replacing alternatives. The next R is reduction, including using appropriate statistical techniques, not repeating experiment unnecessarily and the forth. The last R is refinement, such as the use of anaesthesia and analgesia, the recognition and alleviation of pain and the humane endpoints. In some countries, the principle of the three Rs’ is embodied in legislation, like in the UK and the 1986 European Community. Definitely, the improvement of ethical animal testing is obvious, as scientists Russell and Burch wrote that “the success of such an approach to the reform of modern animal experimentation is that… it presents an essentially pro-science ideal which challenges researchers to develop affordable and ethically superior experimental method” (Monamy 2000, pp.73-92).

In Canada, standards for the ethical use and care of animals, which cover guidelines, policy statements and other CCAC-recognized standards, are regulated and developed to apply across Canada. The CCAC ensures that animals are used under ethical and proper conditions. To promote the Three “Rs” internationally, the CCAC hosted the Eighth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences (WC8) in August 2011 and the CCAC Fellowship program is an important part of CCAC’s work in understanding and addressing ethical issues relating to the use of animals in science (2014, pp.6-7).

In conclusion, this guide introduces the overview of animal experimentation and represents specified details of animal use in Canada. If animals couldn’t be avoided from experimentation, more attention on ethical animal testing should be required and mandatory. Conclusively, in the 21th Century, scientists should pursue more new forms of ethical animal testing or seeking more effective alternatives instead of animal testing in the future, and it should never been stop, as what professor Goodall said,

“We need a new mindset for the 21st century. Most experimenters, while acknowledging that animals are sentient and sometimes sapient beings, say that some will always have to be used but they will use as few and treat them as well as possible. Instead, let us admit that the practice is morally and ethically unacceptable. We need to move on” (2007).


Topics to discuss in your animal testing essay:

  1. The ethical implications of animal testing
  2. The potential risks and benefits of animal testing
  3. The impact of animal testing on animal welfare
  4. Alternatives to animal testing
  5. The scientific validity of animal testing
  6. Regulations and policies surrounding animal testing
  7. The necessity of animal testing in medical research and product safety testing
  8. The potential for animal testing to be used in other areas of research
  9. The public perception of animal testing
  10. The future of animal testing and potential reforms.