Animal Experiments: Overview

Facts and FiguresExperimentation on animals in laboratories generally falls into one of three categories—toxicity testing, education and training, andbasic or applied research. It is a common misconception that most tests on animals are carried out with the aim of finding a cure for cancer, AIDS, or other devastating human diseases. Surveys clearly show that the public accepts animal experimentation only because it is believed to be necessary for medical progress.(1) But according to some national statistics, nearly two-thirds of all animal research has little or nothing to do with curing human diseases or advancing human medicine.(2) The reality is that much of this research is little more than curiosity-driven cruelty.

Wasteful and Unreliable
Each year, around the world, millions of birds, cats, dogs, farmed animals, fish, mice, monkeys, rats, rabbits, and other domestic and wild animals are subjected to a wide variety of experiments in the name of biology, psychology, biochemistry, physiology, genetic manipulation, and bio-warfare. The growing trend toward curiosity-driven research is largely a product of today’s “publish or perish” research environment, in which scientists are recognized for the number of research papers they publish rather than the contribution that each study makes to the advancement of science or medicine.

Even animal research that is carried out for “medical purposes” tends to be irrelevant to human health. A PETA investigation revealed the grotesque abuse of animals in laboratories at Columbia University, where baboons were subjected to invasive surgeries and left to suffer and die in their cages without any painkillers, and monkeys were forced to endure surgical procedures in which metal pipes were implanted into their skulls for the sole purpose of inducing stress to study the connection between stress and women’s menstrual cycles. In another Columbia experiment, pregnant baboons were given large doses of nicotine and morphine, had backpacks full of instrumentation strapped to their backs, and were tethered inside metal cages for observation. Their babies underwent surgery while still in utero. One baboon lost 40 percent of her bodyweight and developed a severe bone infection that was left untreated. Please visit for more information.

Diseases that are artificially induced in animals in a laboratory are never identical to those that occur naturally in human beings. And because animal species differ from one another in many biologically significant ways, it becomes even more unlikely that animal research will yield results that will be correctly interpreted and applied to the human condition in a meaningful way. The fact that the species most often used in laboratory experiments are chosen largely for nonscientific reasons, such as cost and ease of handling, casts further doubt on the validity of this research. In addition, the results of animal experiments are often so variable and easily manipulated that researchers have used them to “prove”—depending on the source of funding—that cigarettes do cause cancer and that they do not! A careful scientific review of 10 randomly chosen “animal models” of human disease found that they made little, if any, contribution toward the treatment of human patients.(7)

Funding and Accountability
Through their taxes, charitable donations, and purchases of lottery tickets and consumer products, members of the public are ultimately the ones who—knowingly or unknowingly—fund animal research. The largest proportion of funding comes from publicly funded government granting agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the U.K. Medical Research Council. In 2004 alone, NIH awarded nearly $27 billion in grants for basic and applied research, a large proportion of which went toward laboratory studies rather than human clinical studies.(8,9) In addition, charities—including the March of Dimes, the American/Canadian Cancer Society, and countless others—use donations to fund experiments on animals. Check out PETA’s Cruelty-Free Companies and Products database to find out which charities do and which do not fund research on animals.

Despite the vast amount of public funds being used to underwrite animal research, it is nearly impossible for the public to obtain current and complete information regarding the animal experiments that are being carried out in their communities or funded with their tax dollars. The U.S. Freedom of Information Act can be used to obtain documents and information from federally funded government agencies and institutions, but private companies, contract labs, and animal breeders are exempt. Secrecy is even more pervasive in the U.K. and Canada, where everything from the protocols that describe animal experiments to the lab inspection reports and the list of registered research facilities is considered “confidential” and off limits to the public.

Oversight and Regulation
Despite the countless animals killed each year in laboratories worldwide, most countries have grossly inadequate regulatory measures to protect animals from suffering and distress or to prevent them from being used when a non-animal approach is clearly available. In the U.S., three of the most commonly used species in laboratory experiments (birds, mice, and rats) are specifically exempted from even the minimal protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act.(10) Labs that use only these species are not required by law to provide animals with pain relief or veterinary care, to have an institutional committee to review proposed experiments, or to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any other entity.

Similar gaps exist in the oversight system in Canada, which has no federal legislation governing the care or use of animals in laboratories. In place of such legislation is a loose patchwork of provincial legislation and national guidelines that makes it possible for certain types of laboratories in some provinces to function without any external oversight.(11)

Troublesome Trends
In the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, commercial pressures carry the threat of creating even more animal suffering through deliberate genetic manipulation. By inserting or removing genes from an animal’s genetic makeup, experimenters are producing entirely new (“transgenic” or “knockout”) breeds, which they hope to patent, thereby ensuring monopoly rights on the sale of these breeds. Major business applications of this technology include the creation of new animals to be used as “disease models” for research, animals to act as “drug factories” for producing pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and faster-growing animals for factory-farming operations.(12) Another controversial application of genetic-manipulation technology is the creation of “humanized” animals to serve as a source of organs and tissues for transplantation, even though animal-to-human organ transplants have never been successful and have the potential to spread dangerous viruses.

Because of the unpredictable nature of genetic manipulation, any “mistakes” that are made can have disastrous consequences for the animals involved. Transgenic pigs who were bred to grow faster and leaner have suffered from arthritis, lethargy, abnormal skull growth, and impaired immune systems.(13) The widely recognized potential for genetic manipulation to result in adverse effects on animals’ health and well-being prompted the Canadian Council on Animal Care to classify these experiments in the second-most severe “category of invasiveness”—with the potential to cause “moderate to severe distress or discomfort.”(14,15)

The creation of new strains of genetically manipulated animals is also incredibly wasteful and inefficient. Only between 1 and 10 percent of animals successfully incorporate the foreign genetic material injected into their embryos; those who do not are killed.(16) This means that as many as 99 animals may be killed for every “viable” transgenic animal who is born. As a result, the number of animals subjected to genetic-manipulation experiments in the U.K. since 1990 has increased more than tenfold.(17) Today, one out of every four animals in U.K. labs has been genetically manipulated in some way.(18)

The Way Forward
Human clinical, population, and in vitro studies are critical to the advancement of medicine; even animal experimenters need them—if only to confirm or reject the validity of their experiments. However, research with human participants does require a different outlook, one that perfectly illustrates the underlying philosophy of ethical science. Animal researchers artificially induce disease; clinical investigators study people who are already ill or who have died. Animal researchers want a disposable “research subject” who can be manipulated as desired and killed when convenient; clinicians must do no harm to their patients or study participants. Animal experimenters face the ultimate dilemma, knowing that their artificially created “animal model” can never fully reflect the human condition; clinical investigators know that the results of their work are directly relevant to people. Remarkably, however, health charities and government research-funding agencies currently devote more funds to animal studies than to investigations of our own species!

Human health and well-being can best be promoted by adopting nonviolent methods of scientific investigation and concentrating on the prevention of disease before it occurs, through lifestyle modification and the prevention of further environmental pollution and degradation. The public needs to become more aware and more vocal about the cruelty and inadequacy of the current research system and must demand that its tax dollars and charitable donations no longer be used to fund research on animals.

What You Can Do
Tell research-funding agencies to kick their animal experimentation habit.

Virtually all federally funded research is paid for with your tax dollars. Two of the main sources of funding for animal-based research in North America, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, need to hear that you don’t want your tax dollars used to underwrite animal experiments, whatever their purpose. When writing letters, make the following two points:

  • Animal experimentation is an inherently violent and unethical practice that I do not want my tax dollars to support.
  • Funding for research into health and ecological effects should be redirected into the use of epidemiological, clinical, in vitro, and computer modeling studies instead of laboratory experiments on animals.

Please ensure that all correspondence is polite:

Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director
National Institutes of Health
Shannon Bldg., Rm. 126
1 Center Dr. (Mail Stop 0148)
Bethesda, MD 20892
301-402-2700 (fax)
[email protected]

Dr. Alan Bernstein, President
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
160 Elgin St., 9th Floor
Address Locator 4809A
Ottawa, ON K1A 0W9
613-954-1800 (fax)
[email protected]


  1. Attitudes Towards Experimentation on Live Animals—Toplines,” MORI, 2004.
  2. Canadian Council on Animal Care, “Facts & Figures, CCAC Animal Use Survey, 2001,” 2001.
  3. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, “Animals Used in Research. Pain and/or Distress—No Drugs Could Be Used for Relief (Category E), All Research Facilities—Federal and Industry, Fiscal Year 2002,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2003.
  4. Madhusree Mukerjee, “Speaking for the Animals: A Veterinarian Analyzes the Turf Battles That Have Transformed the Animal Laboratory,” Scientific American, Aug. 2004.
  5. Canadian Council on Animal Care, 2001.
  6. “Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain, 2002,” Home Office, 6 Jun. 2003.
  7. Christopher Anderegg, M.D., et al., “A Critical Look at Animal Experimentation,” Medical Research Modernization Committee, 2002.
  8. American Association for the Advancement of Science, “NIH Budget Growth Slows to 2 Percent in FY 2004,” 25 Feb. 2003.
  9. T.A. Kotchen et al., “NIH Peer Review of Grant Applications for Clinical Research,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(2004): 836-43.
  10. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, “Animal Welfare, Definition of Animal,” Federal Register, 69 (2004): 31513-4.
  11. Canadian Council on Animal Care, “Responsibility for the Care and Use of Experimental Animals,” CCAC Guide Volume 1, 1991.
  12. Canadian Council on Animal Care, “CCAC Guidelines on Transgenic Animals,” 1993.
  13. Michael W. Fox, Superpigs and Wondercorn: The Brave New World of Biotechnology and Where It All May Lead, New York: Lyons & Burford, 1992.
  14. Canadian Council on Animal Care, 1993.
  15. Canadian Council on Animal Care, “Categories of Invasiveness in Animal Experiments,” 1991.
  16. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, “GM Animals,” postnote, Jun. 2001.
  17. Ibid.
  18. “Annual Statistics,” Home Office, 6 Jun. 2003.


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