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Animal Testing (Vivisection)

Although interesting even to very young children, the controversial subject of animal testing, or vivisection, can be difficult to cover. Many of the images used to illustrate this topic are so graphic that they are upsetting, and the arguments for and against animal testing can become quite complicated. Not surprisingly, there are few, if any, materials available for children of this age group on this topic. However, because you may be asked questions about animal testing by your pupils, we have included a brief section for you on vivisection.

Animals are used in laboratories to test household products such as dye, soap, nappies and washing powder, agricultural and industrial substances, medicines, weaponry - including biological warfare weapons - as well as food additives and possible environmental pollutants. Animals are also used in psychological experiments.

Vivisection originated in second century Rome when Galen, physician to gladiators, was prevented from continuing his dissections of human cadavers by the Church-led moral opposition. He switched his attention to goats and monkeys instead and thus became the 'father of vivisection'.

According to government statistics from 2002, 2.73 million animals were used in British laboratories. These included monkeys, dogs, cats, horses and birds, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. Around sixty per cent of these experiments were conducted with no anaesthetic at all, while the rest were administered 'some form of anaesthesia to alleviate the severity of the interventions.' All the animals died, either as a result of the experiment, or were killed at the end of the experiment when they were no longer useful. Some animals may survive one experiment but may then be used in a subsequent procedure before being killed .

Vivisection laboratories sometimes breed animals on site, while others purchase animals from breeders or import them from other countries. For example, monkeys are often purchased and shipped in from China.

It is virtually impossible to gain access to such breeding establishments or laboratories to investigate conditions.

An animal experimenter might say

We must test on animals because there is no other way to research the effects of potentially life-saving drugs and therapies. While it's true that animals do not always react the same way as people do to drugs, using animals can give us a good indication of how our bodies might react.

Other non-animal methods are being developed all the time, and they are being used more and more. However, there are some areas where animals must still be used. We do our best to keep suffering to a minimum and we are tightly controlled and regulated by the Home Office, which issues licenses for each experiment.

Someone who opposes experiments on animals might say

There's no guarantee that drugs are safe just because they've been tested on animals. Because of the physiological differences between humans and other animals, results from animal tests cannot be accurately extrapolated to humans, leaving us vulnerable to exposure to drugs that may cause serious side effects. There are countless examples of species differences and of how different substances affect those species in very different ways (for example, penicillin kills guinea pigs) . Thousands of drugs that have been passed as safe after testing on animals are later withdrawn from the market because they have proven dangerous to humans. One of the most well known of these is Thalidomide, which caused birth defects in over 10,000 babies.

There can also be profound differences in results within species. If a male rabbit reacts one way to a drug, and a female rabbit a different way, which result will researchers believe? That may depend on who is paying for the research.

Much animal testing is not for pharmaceuticals but for household products, agro-chemicals and other non-medical products.

Further information:
BUAV: 0207 700 4888 www.buav.org
Research Defence Society: 020 7287 2818 www.rds-online.org.uk

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