Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Testing

The Physicians Committee
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Animal Testing and Alternatives

Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Testing

Isn’t testing on animals necessary to protect people from dangerous chemicals?

If animal tests are ineffective and unnecessary, why do scientists still do them?

Do researchers numb animals, or put them to sleep, before they experiment on them?

Do mice and rats suffer in laboratories?

What are some of the most common nonanimal tests used to determine chemical safety?

Are nonanimal test methods expensive?

How many mice and rats are used in toxicology research?

What are other governments doing about animal testing?

How can I help?

animal-free-testing

1) Isn’t testing on animals necessary to protect people from dangerous chemicals?

Answer: There are two main reasons why animal tests fail to protect human health.

1.1) Animal tests are not accurate predictors of potential human impacts.

Let’s take an example from the pharmaceutical world. Currently drugs have over a 90% failure rate, which means they are certified safe from animal studies, then fail in human clinical trials or once they reach the market. This crisis has led the FDA, NIH, and DARPA to spend tens of millions of dollars on “human-on-a-chip” research projects, a promising nonanimal testing method.

Broadly, there are significant genetic, molecular, and metabolic differences between humans and animals used for testing. In toxicity tests, often different sexes or strains of the same species react differently to chemicals.

This makes it impossible to accurately predict potential effects of chemicals on humans - especially given the diversity of our population. Age, developmental stage, disease state, diet - all of these factors affect how a person would respond to a chemical. Animal tests can’t cover all that diversity.

Additionally, animals are often exposed to doses of chemicals thousands of times higher than humans would ever be exposed to, sometimes leading to dubious results or repeated testing. The cramped, stressful conditions in which animals are kept - as well as their individual, unique reactions to their environment - make animal tests extremely unreliable.

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1.2)  There are many ways to obtain information about a chemical's potential biological activity.

Many modern methods are more accurate predictors of human health impacts and take a lot less time to conduct.

Christopher Austin, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, stated in an interview that thanks to these new technologies, “the same number of chemicals that have been tested over the last 20 to 30 years [are] being tested now in a single day.”

These new methods are efficient and accurate, unlike animal testing.  “That process is slow, it’s expensive, it is not necessarily predicative of human toxicity, and it’s become increasingly discouraged by the public,” Austin noted.

Check out our page on nonanimal testing methods to learn more about better ways to test.

2) If animal tests are ineffective and unnecessary, why do scientists still do them?

Answer: Chemical safety testing has been conducted on animals for decades, and scientists and regulators have little incentive to move away from the status quo.

In the United States, no laws ban animal testing or even require that alternatives be considered, so companies can choose to test their products however they wish.

Companies may view animal testing as the easiest route to having their products approved, and many scientists have based their careers on the practice. In addition, there are countless vested interests that support the profitable animal testing industry, from animal breeders to lab equipment manufacturers.

3) Do researchers numb animals, or put them to sleep, before they experiment on them?

Answer: No.

Animals used in toxic testing are almost never given any pain relief, and experiments are performed while animals are still alive and fully conscious.

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4) Do mice and rats suffer in laboratories?

Answer: Just like cats, dogs, and humans, mice and rats have central nervous systems, which means they are capable of feeling pain.

This fact is commonly accepted, even by animal experimenters. Studies have shown that rats are capable of feeling empathy toward another animal who is suffering.

Just like a person would, mice and rats suffer immensely in frightening, crowded laboratories, and of course experience extreme pain during and after experiments.

5) What are some of the most common nonanimal tests used to determine chemical safety?

Answer: See our page on nonanimal methods.

Here you will learn more about the many effective testing methods that do not involve animals.

6) Are nonanimal test methods expensive?

Answer: Actually, nonanimal alternatives can be less expensive than using animals to test chemical safety.

Housing, feeding, and caring for animals is costly. Many nonanimal tests are conducted in test tubes or petri dishes, or using computerized models and simulations. The biggest money-saver nonanimal alternatives provide, however, is time. These tests can produce results in a matter of minutes or hours, whereas animal tests can take years.

7) How many mice and rats are used in toxicology research?

Answer: There is no way to know how many mice, rats, fish, or birds are used in research, because these animals are specifically excluded from federal laws that require scientists to report the number of animals involved in their studies.

Estimates vary, but it is likely that at least 95% of animals used in U.S. laboratories are mice and rats. This means millions of animals are killed every year.

8) What are other governments doing about animal testing?

Answer: The European Union and the State of São Paulo, Brazil have banned animal testing for cosmetics. India and Israel have banned animal testing for both cosmetics and household products.

For other kinds of chemicals, the European Union requires that animals only be used as a last resort, after all other, better methods of obtaining information have been exhausted.

9) How can I help?

Answer: There are many ways to get involved in the effort to move away from using animals in chemical testing.

Start by sharing the TailofToxics video and this information with your friends to buying or making your own cruelty-free cosmetics and household products. Check out our What You Can Do page.

Learn more about chemical testing basics, 21st century chemical regulation, and find chemical testing resources on our website.

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