How can we measure suffering over animal testing?

The debate over animal research would be better served with more information, says Gareth Chadwick

A A A

Animal testing and research has long been a controversial, much-debated subject. Public opinion is widely varied, often depending on the nature of the research in question, which varies enormously in type, purpose and outcome.

Animals are used worldwide to test products ranging from shampoos (although not in the UK, where the testing of cosmetics on animals is illegal) to pioneering pharmaceuticals that may help in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV.

Indeed, supporters argue that vaccines for diseases such as rabies, polio and TB could not have been developed without animal testing. Launching a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences into the use of animals in research in December 2006, Jo Tanner, chief executive of the Coalition for Medical Progress, said that "the carefully regulated use of non-human primates in medical research has led to the development of many of the treatments we currently take for granted. And if we are to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease or vaccines against Malaria and HIV, we will need to carry out research using a small number of primates."

At the same time, Sir David Weatherall, chair of the group that undertook the 18-month study, said: "there is a scientific case for careful, meticulously regulated non-human primate research, at least for the foreseeable future."

However the RSPCA greeted the findings with alarm. Supporting a landmark report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which stated that research without causing harm to animals "must be the ultimate goal", RSPCA senior scientist Dr Penny Hawkins said: "The RSPCA expected the Weatherall Committee to challenge the necessity and justification for primate use in an open-minded and innovative way, but in our view it has not done that. All it has done is defend the status quo, which is just not good enough."

And in September this year, European MPs voted overwhelmingly for the Commission to phase out the use of primates.

So despite the findings of the Weatherall report, there is growing public concern surrounding the ethical and moral acceptability of all testing on animals, medical or otherwise.

A 1999 MORI opinion poll conducted for New Scientist magazine is still one of the most comprehensive, unbiased studies into public attitudes towards the subject to date. The results revealed that 64 per cent of those questioned did not want scientists to be allowed to conduct tests on live animals.

Investigations into the safety of new medicines in particular can cause significant pain and suffering, and the vast majority of all animals used for research are destroyed as part of the experiment or when no longer required.

Mice, rats and other rodents are the most commonly used animals for research, accounting for 85 per cent. Dogs, cats, horses and primates are subject to special protection and account for less than 1 per cent of laboratory animals collectively.

The use of primates is a particularly contentious issue, and the relatively small percentage used in research nonetheless amounts to a considerable number. Every year in the UK, around 3,000 non-human primates (predominantly marmosets and macaques) are used for research and testing. For the EU as a whole, the figure stands at approximately 10,000.

Non-human primate research primarily looks at the development and testing of medicines and vaccines. Primates are also used for biological investigations, such as research into behaviour and brain function.

There are regulations in place to minimise the suffering of animals used in research, which state that animal experiments must not be conducted if a realistic alternative is available. Moreover, animal testing must be licensed by the Home Office, which awards a "severity level" that dictates the maximum level of suffering permitted, based on the nature of the procedure.

However, there is controversy surrounding this system. Home Office statistics on the use of animals for testing apply solely to estimates of procedural severity levels provided before the investigation has taken place. Information on the actual level of suffering during the investigation is not reported or published. It is due to this lack of information that out of five research animal indicators in the RSPCA report, three have insufficient data to assess trends. Without this information, it is difficult to gauge how much animals are suffering and for what purpose, and whether the situation is improving.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?