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Animal testing: a superfluous tradition?

Millions of animals are tortured in German animal testing laboratories every year. Mice, rats and fish in particular, but also rabbits, cats, dogs and monkeys fall victim to scientific experiments. Although the benefits of animal experiments are now highly controversial, they are still accepted in politics and science and are even required for the approval of certain substances. Yet there are now enough animal-free methods that could replace animal testing in the long term.

Table of contents
  • Why are animal experiments carried out
  • ? How many animals die in animal experiments every year
  • Are animal experiments necessary or what are the arguments against animal experiments?
  • What can be done about animal testing?

What are animal experiments done for

Basic research

Around half of animal experiments are used in basic research. This refers to answering a wide variety of scientific questions. These are often disproportionate to the suffering they cause and the results are not transferable to humans.

Regulatory tests Before chemicals, pesticides or medicines are approved, they have to undergo toxicological safety tests. Monkeys in particular are used for this purpose. Around 80% of the monkeys that suffer in animal experiments give their lives for regulatory tests.

Applied research This area involves research into diseases and the development of medicines. Animals are used as disease models, e.g. in cancer research or currently for the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Cosmetics and their ingredients Animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients has actually been banned in the EU since 2013. But there are loopholes in the law. For example, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently forced a company to carry out animal testing for the approval of two ingredients that are only found in sun creams. Despite the relevant laws, it is therefore not possible to rely on cosmetics being free from animal testing.

Other animal experiments Animals are also killed for training purposes in (veterinary) medical/biological education at universities or in experiments with genetically modified genetic material.

How many animals die in animal experiments every year? The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) publishes figures and data on the so-called use of laboratory animals on its website www.bf3r.de. According to the BfR, around 1.9 million vertebrates and cephalopods were used for animal testing in 2020. Around 78% of these were rodents, mainly mice and rats. What is not taken into account in these figures: Many animals are bred for animal experiments but are not used after all. They are killed as so-called "surplus" and are not included in the official figures for animals used in experiments. According to the German Animal Welfare Association, around 9.6 million animals were used in animal experiments in the EU in 2017, but a total of just under 22.2 million were "consumed".

Are animal experiments necessary or what are the arguments against animal experiments? The benefits of animal testing are repeatedly questioned by scientists and animal rights activists. On the one hand, they are reprehensible from an ethical point of view, and on the other, they are not scientifically meaningful. The main argument against animal experiments is that they are not transferable to humans. 95% of all drugs that are found to be safe in animal experiments fail when tested on humans. This may be because drugs that have been shown to be effective in animal tests cause harm in humans or show no efficacy. There are too many differences between humans and animals in terms of physique, organ function, metabolism, nutrition or immune reactions. Moreover, diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's do not occur naturally in animals and have to be artificially induced or simulated. The findings from animal experiments therefore also do not help in the development of new therapies (e.g. cancer or Parkinson's disease).

The test conditions in animal experiments are often standardized in order to achieve reproducible results. This has little to do with the complex reality. The realization that smoking, lack of exercise and poor eating habits can lead to cancer, diabetes or heart attacks was gained through epidemiological studies - not animal experiments. The argument that animal experiments help to better understand the development or progression of a disease is therefore also untenable.

Human-oriented research would make more sense here. Instead of a "detour" via another species, research would be conducted directly on humans. Thanks to state-of-the-art technologies such as cell cultures, multi-organ chips and computer simulations, there are currently numerous ways to conduct research without animal testing and achieve safer results. This not only saves numerous animals a painful life, but also time and money. For the understanding and treatment of human diseases, this is more promising than inconclusive animal experiments.

Find out more about alternative methods here.

What can you do against animal testing? Find out more about the topic and educate those around you about the issue. Many organizations against animal testing provide detailed background information and educational materials online. You can also find current campaigns, petitions or civil rights initiatives that you can get involved in at the association Menschen für Tierrechte or Ärzte gegen Tierversuche, for example. PETA also has a database of animal-free cleaning products and cosmetics. Companies that carry out animal testing are also listed there.

Sources: www.tierschutzbund.de/information/hintergrund/tierversuche/ www.aerzte-gegen-tierversuche.de/de/