Millions of animals are being poisoned, burned, infected and dissected in the course of research. EVERY year, an estimated 115 million animals are used for research and experiments in the name of science. Some of the animals commonly used in tests include dogs, cats, rodents (rats, mice, guinea pigs and hamsters), rabbits, fruit flies, fish, birds, frogs and non-human primates such as the common Macaque, baboons, squirrel monkeys and marmosets.
Supporters argue that progress in modern medicine depended on animal testing, while animal rights activists vehemently question its legitimacy.
Closer home, we have our share of proponents who feel it is justified to use animals to serve our needs. Malacca chief minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam was quoted as saying that God created animals to be used by humans, and animals needed to be sacrificed in order to find vaccines and cures for diseases.
Meanwhile, an animal lab in Seberang Prai, Penang, has come under the scrutiny of the Penang State Government. Progenix Research Sdn Bhd, which runs the animal testing laboratory in Bukit Mertajam, said in its website that it is an independent contract research organisation offering toxicology services.
While the use of animals in experiments has stirred raw emotions, let us take a closer look at what goes on in an animal testing lab.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international animal rights group, take us through a typical scenario. BUAV, the prime mover against animal testing in Britain, also gives accreditation for products not tested on animals.
“If the lab was testing for toxicity of botulinum toxin (botox), one would find mice suffering from paralysis and respiratory distress. Unable to reach for food or water, they eventually die from suffocation.
“On the other hand, if the lab was testing the effects of a nerve poison such as soman, you would see monkeys in cages suffering from the extremely painful effects of this poison,” says Dr Buyukmihci, who is speaking from his experience as principal investigator for several large National Institute of Health-funded projects involving animals in the United States.
Dr Buyukmihci is now against using animals in research which harms them.
The species that is used, says Dr Buyukmihci, is dependent on the drug or situation being tested. In general, every drug is tested on at least one rodent species, a large mammal species such as a dog, and in a non-human primate species.
“The test to see if cancer is caused by a particular drug, may go on for months or years, depending on the species used,” explains Dr Buyukmihci via e-mail.
Den of suffering
PETA laboratory investigations vice-president Kathy Guillermo paints a gruesome picture of unspeakable suffering inside some animal testing facilities: scenes of animals being forced to inhale toxic fumes, have holes drilled into their skulls, have their skin burnt and their spinal cords crushed.
“Tiny mice grow tumours as large as their bodies, kittens are blinded, and rats made to suffer seizures. Experimenters force-feed pesticides to dogs and rub corrosive chemicals onto rabbits’ skin,” reveals Guillermo in an e-mail interview.
“In some experiments, animals are traumatised at an early age, and then allowed to grow for years to observe the effects of the early trauma in late life.
“You see thousands of animals confined in cages, socially isolated. Many of these animals exhibit symptoms of severe psychological trauma,” points out Guillermo, who has been with PETA for 21 years.
BUAV communications and special projects director Sarah Kite has gone undercover at many of these animal testing facilities. She saw toxicity tests being administered to rats, mice and dogs.
“For the dogs, this could entail anything from dripping substances into their eyes twice a day, lacing their food with fungicides or insecticides, force-feeding of chemicals, drugs and household products in the form of gelatine capsules or via plastic tubes inserted into their stomach,” she details via e-mail.
Dogs were strapped in harness for up to eight hours a day, and chemicals pumped into their bloodstream to test for skin toxicity.
“I have witnessed beagles being pinned between the technician’s legs, their jaws forced open and toxic capsules pushed down their throats. The highly distressed dogs would often struggle to escape, and retch and regurgitate after the ordeal was over.”
Kite saw that many of the dogs were shaking visibly. She often found blood, vomit and signs of diarrhoea on the cage floors.
Among the tests they underwent were a gastro-intestinal toxicity test for an anti-arthritic drug already on the market; a repeated 30-day dermal toxicity test for a psoriasis skin cream which was applied on the dogs’ shaved backs which bore open, weeping sores; and an acute oral toxicity test for 13 weeks for a component of polypropylene food wrap (the dogs were force-fed gelatin capsules).
At an international contract testing laboratory in Germany, BUAV uncovered macaque monkeys being subjected to a distressing routine of blood sampling, forced oral dosing of chemicals and long periods restrained in “primate chairs” for the slow intravenous drip of chemical cocktails.
At another contract testing lab in Britain, BUAV found rabbits being used in pyrogen tests (a pyrogen is a fever-inducing agent). As part of the test, the rabbits could be starved for up to 30 hours. During the test, they are immobilised in stocks for several hours.
“The test substance is injected into an ear vein, sometimes resulting in damage to the ears. A temperature probe was inserted 7.5cm deep into the rectum and left for hours,” details Kite.
Some of the rabbits were killed at the end of the test, but others were returned to their cages to be re-used.
For toxicology tests, BUAV’s Dr Buyukmihci says no anaesthetics or pain relievers are given because it is believed that they would interfere with the results.
PETA’s Guillermo notes that the prevailing ethics at all vivisection laboratories is that science always comes before the welfare of the animals.
She says that some tests require “death as an endpoint,” that is, they wait for the animal to die a slow, painful death. Other animals are killed intentionally so that their tissues can be harvested and their bodies examined.
According to Dr Buyukmihci, animals that do not die from the effects of the tests will be killed.
“If the animals become very sick, they may be killed before the end of the test but only if it does not interfere with the results,” says Dr Buyukmihci.
Guillermo further explains that animals are often afflicted with an illness to observe the effects of the disease on their body. “After the experimenters have obtained the data they need, the animal will be euthanised.”
The animals are generally supplied to the labs by companies that breed them onsite for this purpose. Many primates are imported from the wild, often from wildlife dealers in Asia. And then the pain and suffering starts.