Beasts of burden

Is it not nice to hear that the number of animals used for scientific experiments in Belgium has dropped by 75% between 2000 and 2009, and toxicity tests now represent less than 2% of all experiments using animals, in particular fish and larvae.

Though we have to be aware about the more than 100 million animals every year that suffer and die in cruel chemical, drug, food and cosmetic tests, biology lessons, medical training exercises, and curiosity-driven medical experiments. Exact numbers aren’t available because mice, rats, birds and cold-blooded animals—who make up more than 95 percent of animals used in experiments—are not covered by even the minimal protections of the Animal Welfare Act and therefore go uncounted.

A rabbit after a Draize Test

A rabbit after a Draize Test - Image via Wikipedia

You can question if it is necessary to test cosmetics, household cleaners, and other consumer products, on hundreds of thousands of animals to be poisoned, blinded, and killed every year by cruel corporations. Using animals for medical experimentation, product testing, and education is a controversial subject that often leads to heated debate. While the issues are complex, the suffering involved in animal experimentation is painfully obvious.

Though the scientific world knows about alternative techniques leading not only to more reliable scientific conclusions and about development of non-animal alternatives in research and testing which have already grown dramatically in the past 20 years, we still need a more humane approach to replace live animal use completely.

In Belgium out of the 397 laboratories that are allowed to use animals for experiments, only 28 (7%) belong to businesses. Yet, these private labs account for three-quarters of the decrease in animal numbers. Here the number of primates used in research has dropped from over 500 monkeys used for research in 2000 to just 21 last year, used to control the quality of vaccines or to study the brain. Rabbits are still used to produce certain antibodies to treat cancer or genetic conditions. Also, 349 cats were used last year – mostly as part of a research project on early castration, which aims to reduce the numbers of cats that end up in animal shelters.

According to the European Commission’s latest Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, top EU companies have reduced their investment in R&D by 2.6% in 2009 compared to the year before, even though the pharma and biotech industries are better off than other research-intensive sectors. But I am not as happy yet as I should be. Because when I look at what is happening, I notice a move, from our ‘more socially controlled countries’, to countries who are more revenue income lenient and who have fewer regulations. Some companies have scaled down their research units or moved them to other countries – so the animals may well be used, but somewhere else. In Flanders, research funding is decreasing. Less funding means less research and animal husbandry is a major expense.

The European Government should take measures for the whole of Europe. Last year, the EU adopted at last a Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which must be enforced in all 27 EU countries by 2013. The law aims to limit the harm caused to animals by raising common protection standards, but national governments can adopt higher standards if they so wish.

Wistar rat

Animal,Porkey Pig, Lobund-Wistar - Janet Stephens

The basic principle is called the “Three Rs”: replacement, reduction, refinement. This means favouring methods that don’t use animals when possible; reducing the number of animals when they are used; and improving procedures to limit the animals’ painand distress.

The level of suffering and the number of animals involved are both so high that the benefits to humanity don’t provide moral justification and therefore we all should object against this cruelty because any benefits to human beings that animal testing does provide could mostly be produced in other ways.

More work should be made of improving the experimental techniques, using less invasive techniques, better living conditions, improving techniques of data analysis, and sharing more information with other researchers worldwide.

When you look how the computer evolved we also should make better use of it. Replacing experiments on animals with alternative techniques such as: Experimenting on cell cultures instead of whole animals, using computer models, studying human volunteers and using epidemiological studies.

We also should be aware that we cannot bring human lives in danger, so a certain amount of animal experiments would eliminate some potential drugs as either ineffective or too dangerous to use on human beings. If a drug passes the animal test it then can be tested more safely on a small human group before large scale clinical trials, without bringing those volunteers too much in danger.

The necessary animal experiments allowed should only be authorised if they really can benefit human beings if their results are valid and can be applied to human beings.

Belgian regulations are already mostly in line with the European law. Before being carried out, any experiment using animals must be approved by an ethical committee. Also, any scientist or technician that handles animals in the lab must take a course accredited by the government.

“The government and the EU are responsible for providing a legal framework, and we will only operate within that framework,” says KUL professor Peter Marynen. “It’s not up to the university to decide the boundaries, but of course researchers want to be involved in the discussion to determine them.”

“We always choose the species with the lowest possible level of consciousness,” explains a spokesperson at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL). “If we can conduct the experiment on worms, we do not use vertebrates or mammals.”

Professor Peter Marynen, vice-rector for research policy at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL), says: “We invest a lot in centralised, state-of-the-art animal facilities. Animals are not kept in individual labs so that we can ensure a high quality of treatment, housing and food.”

Also, every scientist who plans to use animals must submit a detailed proposal to the university’s ethics committee and justify why the animals must be used. If the plans are approved, the researcher cannot exceed the number of animals the committee has allowed.

At the VUB, Thielemans says that stricter regulations have changed the work of researchers. “Today before you design experiments with animals, you think twice, and that was not the case some 10 years ago. There is more awareness of the need to reduce and replace the use of animals.” But he warns against excessive rules and paperwork that can slow down research. “We have to keep the balance right; sometimes I’m afraid we’re overdoing it.”

In Leuven, Marynen is more optimistic about the health of Flemish science. “There is an increase in life sciences research,” he notes. “Whenever an animal experiment can be replaced by an in vitro experiment, this should be done. But in many cases, this is not possible, so I expect that [animal] numbers will not go down.

KUL’s animal testing policy states: “A human life is fundamentally valuable, and though that is also true for the lives of animals, when faced with the choice, we opt for the human.” At the Free University of Brussels (VUB), Professor Kris Thielemans agrees: “You cannot bring numbers to zero because testing drugs or proof of concepts in animals before going to patients is very important.”

Being aware that animal testing can increase the understanding concerning the animal being experimented on but also that it can shed a light on the development of certain diseases.  By testing animals researchers can in certain cases be able to help animals survive as well as human beings. When medical researchers learn about a new kind of Virus, the tests against this virus used on animals can bring lifesaving solutions.

A good ethical solution to avoid as much pain as possible has to be sought.

Please do read as well:

Animal Testing: Is Animal Testing Ethically Incorrect

How much animal testing was done in 2005?
More than 500 academics, scientists and doctors in the UK have signed a declaration supporting the use of animals where necessary to advance medical research.
+ While the number of normal animals used in experiments continues to drop, since 1990 there has been an increase in animals bred with genetic modifications or defects, from around 200,000 to more than one million.

And find also:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals = Peta

Belgian regulations for experiments on animals

In Belgium animals used in experiments are legally protected.  All institutes that do tests on animals  as well as the breeding places of laboratory animals must be officially recognized.  Ethical commissions also judge the investigation proposals and the Minister and the service of animal-welfare of the Federal Government public health, Safety of the foodchain and Environment are advised concerning animal tests through a committee of experts: the Deontologisch Committee.  Laboratories have been obliged to look for alternative methods – by which no or less animals become used – insofar as such methods or test are available.

In België zijn dieren gebruikt in experimenten wettelijk beschermd. Alle instituten die dierproeven uitvoeren alsook fokinstellingen van proefdieren moeten erkend zijn. Ethische commissies beoordelen voorafgaandelijk de onderzoeksvoorstellen. De Minister en de dienst Dierenwelzijn van de FOD Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu worden geadviseerd inzake dierproeven door een comité van deskundigen: het Deontologisch Comité. Er kunnen steeds inspecties van erkende faciliteiten plaats grijpen. Het aantal gebruikte dieren moet dooe de gebruikers jaarlijks worden bijgehouden. Labo’s zijn verplicht alternatieve methodes aan te wenden – waarbij geen of minder dieren worden gebruikt – voor zover dergelijke methodes of testen beschikbaar zijn. Ook het vervoer van proefdieren, steeds beschouwd als een commercieel transport, is gereglementeerd.

GAIA: Minder proefdieren gebruikt in 2010 is positief, maar stijging proeven op honden en konijnen is alarmerend

The sometimes too aggressive organisation for animal welfare demands more transparency.

Vorig jaar werden in de Belgische laboratoria ongeveer 90 000 minder ratten en muizen gebruikt voor proeven, maar het aantal van bijna 570 000 van deze knaagdieren voor proeven blijft toch nog zeer hoog. Het aantal apen dat voor proeven wordt gebruikt in België blijft dalen (21 tegenover 29 in 2009 en 41 in 2008). De acties van GAIA en ADC (Anti Dierproeven Coalitie) waren het voorbije jaar vooral tegen apenproeven gericht. Maar er werden beduidend meer honden gebruikt voor proeven in 2010 (662 t.ov. 584 in 2009), en de stijging van het aantal proefkonijnen voor het tweede opeenvolgende jaar is zeer verontrustend: 66 625 of meer dan 9000 konijnen meer dan in 2009, toen het aantal proefkonijnen ook al met meer dan 15 000 was toegenomen.

Source: Home Office. The way experiments/procedures were counted /defined changed in 1986

  • It’s hard to argue with experimenting on animals if it will reduce human suffering (
    It can be difficult to get to the truth about what’s “necessary” to advance medical science. As in so many situations, every commentator seems to have an agenda which informs their stance.
    + It is possible to help people without harming animals. Experiments using human tissues and cells, for example human stem cells, are far more relevant and better models for people than any animal.   These non-animal tests (alternative methods) are also cheaper, faster, and more accurate at predicting human reactions to a product than the old animal tests ever were.  It’s not necessary to test medicines in the “whole body” – it’s not necessary to have a beating heart – it’s what happens as a result of the beating heart, not the heart itself that is important.
  • Animal testing laws to slacken under EU proposals (
  • Animal experiments to produce new cosmetics? No thanks (
    Currently, there’s a deadline of 2013 for the introduction of a marketing ban for products containing ingredients that have been tested on animals anywhere for all effects, includingrepeated-dose toxicity, skin sensitisation, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity and toxicokinetics.What this means is that, at the moment, cosmetic companies can have their ingredients tested for these exempted tests outside the EU, then continue to sell the resulting products within the EU. The proposed 2013 ban will prevent this outsourcing. Cosmetics companies will no longer be able to test any ingredients on animals at all, anywhere, for products sold in the EU.Why is this subject in the news?  The European Commission is currently looking at whether to propose postponing the 2013 deadline. Industry lobby groups are pressurising the Commission to do this, for obvious commercial reasons.In the US, there are no prohibitions whatsoever on the use of animals for cosmetics testing. There is increasing consumer pressure to introduce legislation more similar to the EU, which is why many in the US are watching what is going to happen in the EU; it will be seen as an important precedent.
  • Dissolving Caliban’s Line (
    we are faced with the choice of owning the shadow cast by animal suffering or succumbing ourselves.
    Academics must choose between two competing models: one political, and the other scientific. To serve great apes, other animals, and humanity, scientists are compelled to openly endorse the scientific model and in so doing, transform great ape conservation into a movement of social justice and self-determination.  Let us harness the spirit and knowledge of science for the good of all and release animals from their bondage.
  • Medical research warning over human cells in animals (
    Medical research on animals that contain material from humans – such as brain cells – should be more tightly regulated, according to a report from a leading panel of scientists and ethicists.
  • Ethical rules needed to curb ‘Frankenstein-like experiments’ on animals (
  • Animal Testing: A Blessing or Cruelty? (
    Though many people argue the animal and human bodies function in very different ways, it is a fact that there is a lot of similarity in how humans and certain animals like rats, guinea pigs and rabbits react to certain chemicals, pathogens and medications. This makes it convenient to conduct tests on various animals to project reactions and benefits in humans.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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2 Responses to Beasts of burden

  1. Pingback: Animal Testing: we would be dead without it.?

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Primacy by J.E. Fishman | Man of la Book

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