The use of animals in experimental research in the US has surged over recent years, according to a new analysis based on previously unpublished data collected by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The new analysis makes the trend pretty clear — the use of animals in laboratory research rose by 73% between the years of 1997 and 2012. This information contradicts common claims of those in the industry that the use of animals has been decreasing.
One of the main reasons for the apparent disparity between public perception and reality is that federal regulations only relate to some of the animals commonly used in research — as a result, the official numbers can indeed seemingly show decreasing use while actual use is increasing. (The easy doctoring of apparent trends… that’s pretty much the primary appeal of statistics isn’t it?)
In the US the animals that are regulated federally (with regard to experimental research) are: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and some others. Animals that aren’t regulated include: mice, rats, birds, and all ‘cold-blooded’ animals. In other words, if someone wants to experiment on birds, mice, rats, etc, in a laboratory setting, they can do pretty much whatever they want with minimal federal regulation. As a result, there’s limited published data concerning the use of these animals — that’s where NIH data comes in (which was obtained via Freedom of Information requests).
Utilizing the data it was possibly to “analyze the use of all vertebrate species at the top 25 institutions in receipt of its (NIH) grants”.
Considering that public opposition (perhaps this is a rather superficial opposition though) to animal experimentation has been growing in recent years, you’d hope that such experimentation would be decreasing. But that’s apparently not the case — it’s just been hidden somewhat, while actually increasing.
Worth noting here is that much work has shown animal studies typically don’t translate well to humans, and that new approaches/technologies (artificial analogs) are typically superior.
A recent press release provides a bit more:
This was largely driven by increases in the use of mice while the use of other species remained mostly unchanged. Unregulated species made up almost all (98.8 %) of the animals used at these labs. This is the first time data on the prevalence and trends in use of these species in the US has been published, and the pattern mirrors international reports of increases in the use of mice for genetic modification.
Possible explanations for these trends include personal and legal biases towards certain animal species, say the researchers. But the figures highlight a need for greater efforts to curb the use of animals in scientific research and more transparency in reporting on whether these are succeeding, they add.
Yet another piece of wood to add to the apparently growing fire of public discontent with the scientific establishment, no doubt. As a recent study examining differences between public perception and the perception of those in the scientific fields (with regard to notable issues) found, there’s a significant gap there — and it’s been growing fast over recent years.
To my eyes it isn’t as simple as a “lack of education” as some have proposed, but rather a general growing distrust of the purpose and necessity of “science” (after all, how often are people’s lives actually improved by new ‘breakthroughs’ — does the ‘discovery’ of the Higgs Boson get somebody who was put out of work by a machine a job?). As well as a recognition of some of the growing environmental problems caused by the widespread use of many modern technologies.
As someone who has had a number of conversations with people involved in research that uses animals for experimentation, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard an argument for the practice that I’ve found very convincing. With a growing proportion of the population not seeing the practice as beneficial enough to justify, how can it be justified?
As it stands, more than 20 million mice and rats are used (used up) as experimental animals every year. Roughly 25,000 cats are used as experimental animals every year in the US (as of 2013). Around 68,000 dogs were used in experiments in the US in 2013. And around 70,000 non-human primates are used experimentally in the US + EU every year — many of these primates are caught in the wild.
1st & 3rd images in the public domain.