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Animal Experiments in Labs - What Have We Learned?

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

WARNING: This lesson contains disturbing true information and images.

In many experiments, rabbits are held captive while bleach and other toxic chemicals are injected into their eyes until they burn into a monstrous mass and continue until the rabbit dies.

Millions of animals have been used in research in the name of science. The question is what have we learned from these cruel processes? How much has it helped advance understanding of human health? Are there more humane methods, that have more relevance, and thus scientific benefit to humans?

While scientific progress is important -- we must make sure it is progress and not just torture for no reason. According to The National Anti-Vivi-section Society (NAVS), 92-95% of the results of drugs tested on animals will produce "evidence" that is not relevant to human use. In other words, the results of nearly 95% of animal experiments are useless for humans. (Source NAVS)

There are many examples, such as how penicillin, which is toxic for guinea pigs, or morphine which causes a frenzy in mice, or drugs which have fallen into disuse use after they were "proved safe" in animals but caused heart failure and seizures in humans. The most famous example, sited by Peter Singer, is Thalidomide, which caused drastic deformities in over 10,000 human babies.

"The German drug company Chemie Grünenthal developed and sold the drug in the 1950s. It was primarily prescribed as a sedative or hypnotic, and thalidomide also claimed to cure "anxiety, insomnia, gastritis, and tension. It was used to treat nausea and to alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women. Thalidomide had "passed" animal testing on pregnant dogs, cats, rats, monkeys, hamsters, and chickens. Pregnant women took it, and ten thousand babies were born seriously deformed. In other words, the animal testing proved to be irrelevant to human application."

Many more drugs have opposite or different effects on animals than they have on humans. Thus the methodology of testing drugs on animals and assuming they will have the same impact on humans is deeply flawed.

"Even animals with greater similarity to humans, such as primates, have failed to predict what happens in humans. For example, monkeys treated with a therapeutic antibody (anti-CD28 monoclonal antibody TGN1412) did not predict the potentially fatal immune response that was triggered in humans. (Some members of) the scientific community have also recently concluded that research on chimpanzees, our closest genetic relative, is unnecessary." (NAVS)

For almost a century, major university condoned animal experiments in the field of Psychology rival what was done by Dr. Josef Mengele on prisoners in Auschwitz. Mengele used Nazi racial prejudicial theory to justify his actions. The brutal medical experiments by the "Angel of Death" he performed in the concentration camps were claimed to give us knowledge. His pseudo-scientific experiments, such as the brutal injections, castrations without anesthesia, and other barbarities he did with 3,000 twins left only 160 survivors. He kept a wall of eyeballs, in his experiments to turn brown eyes to blue. Because he considered Jews to be inferior, this was used as a justification to continue to do these experiments. The notion of humans being superior to animals is part of the same justification being used today for brutal animal experiments.

In the year 1986, as Peter Singer notes "The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded 350 animal experiments, many of which involved direct manipulation of the brain, the effects of drugs on behavior, experiments involving inescapable electric shocks, sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis, stress, fear, and anxiety. The government spent 30 million dollars (of taxpayer money) on these animal experiments in this one year."

Current Animal Research

Injecting toxicity means at least half the animals will die

Given the level of secrecy that much of the animal testing industry functions under, and the well-paid lobbyists who keep the public misinformed, it is difficult for citizens to have accurate information as to how much money is being spent on cruel animal experiments. The National Anti-Vivisection Society who educates the public on alternatives to these non-scientifically valid experiments says: "It is an international, government-sanctioned and funded, multi-billion-dollar business..."

"One important indicator of how this animal research complex continues to grow is how much the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends on animal testing and experimentation. Although it is not possible to disaggregate the budgets to identify money spent on animal research for individual projects, it is possible to get a sense through Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee information. Reliable government sources have informed NAVS that approximately 47% of NIH-funded grants have an animal research-based component. This number has been fairly steady over the past ten years. In 2015, the NIH budget of almost $22 billion resulted in well over $10 billion in funding for projects that included animal testing and experimentation."

It is a lucrative business for the animal breeders and suppliers of equipment. NAVS quotes some examples:

"Animal breeders profit handsomely from breeding and genetically engineering animals, from mice to primates, in order to satisfy the demands of researchers. Recent prices quoted from one animal supply company’s catalog identified New Zealand White Rabbits as high as $352 each, purebred Beagles for $1,049 and some primates costing more than $8,000 each."

Teaching "Learned Helplessness" -- But What Did We Learn?

According to The American Psychological Association's survey of 608 animal research projects from 1979 to 1983, ten percent of the studies used painful electric shock.

Dogs learned they couldn't escape the shocks and gave up, a condition Seligman called "Learned Helplessness."

One well-funded experimenter was Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. "He electrically shocked dogs through a steel grid floor with such intensity and persistence that the dogs stopped trying to escape and "learned to be helpless." These experiments added more and more brutal elements and were continued by many other researchers with many kinds of animals.

But as Peter Singer states, "Fifteen years of giving electric shocks to animals may not have produced (any) valid results."

A lot of dead animals. And nothing much to show for it that could help human beings.

Because researchers didn't believe animals suffered, in spite of watching them suffer daily, they continued these brutal experiments.

Educating the Public About These Hidden Experiments:

Peter Singer's book first published in 1975, and still in print, exposed the sadistic practices in animal research. He is the whistle-blower exposing the cruel and pervasive methods used. The book has changed the course of people's lives. Many of the examples in this lesson are taken from this book. Read it -- if you are brave enough!

Several organizations are devoted to getting researchers to adopt more humane, more scientifically valid methods of testing. One organization, The National Anti-Vivisection Society is dedicated to enduring cruel experiments which are done on millions of animals a year, many with taxpayer money, such as is done at the VA, and instead in proposing more humane methods that actually produce meaningful human data. On their website, they explain their position:

"The word “vivisection,” or animal experimentation, does not begin to describe how hundreds of millions of animals are used in science every year, let alone capture the physical pain, deprivation and emotional distress experienced by animals who are cut up, poisoned, burned, irradiated, gassed, shocked, dismembered or genetically designed to suffer. Nor does it reflect the tragedy of each individual life—however short and brutal—caged in an artificial environment which deprives them of experiencing life as nature intended. Many of the animals used in testing are social animals, meaning that being kept in a cage alone is equivalent to the punishment of solitary confinement used for prisoners.

Millions of animals—primates, dogs and cats, rats and mice, rabbits, pigs, horses, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and yes, guinea pigs—are sacrificed as a result of animal experimentation. They are used in basic and applied research, for the safety testing of products, to be bred or harvested from the wild to be killed and cut up for dissection, and as living factories of byproducts to be used as ingredients in drugs or laboratory experiments.

NAVS opposes the use of animals in scientific research and product testing for both ethical and scientific reasons. Animal experimentation is cruel. It is an outdated and inadequate methodology that can produce invalid, often misleading results. It wastes money and resources and sidetracks meaningful scientific progress."

Military Chimp Experiments

Project X was a film released in 1987 with Matthew Broderick about a chimpanzee in a lab who also knew sign language. When it was his turn for radiation, Broderick's character decides to try to save the chimp.

While the specifics of this story are fictional, the experiments called Primate Equilibrium Platform, or PEP, are real.

It has been revealed that at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas, the truth about excruciating experiments where chimps were restrained in flight simulators and subjected to electric shocks until they died horrible deaths.

The chimps were also subjected to radiation and chemical warfare agents to see how this would affect their ability to fly.

Dr. Donald Barnes, who for several years was the principal investigator of these experiments at the U.S. Air Force School of Medicine, estimated that he had irradiated about one thousand trained rhesus monkeys. He was having doubts that this was good science and when he tried to speak up, he was shut down and told by his boss Dr. DeHart to keep quiet, that no one knew that the data they were gathering was based on animal studies.

Barnes finally resigned and has become a strong opponent of animal experimentation. He has since stated clearly that these experiments had no relevance to how humans would handle the same experience. These experiments, paid for by taxpayers, he finally acknowledged, had no human application, as to how the chimps responded to this torture bore no relevant data for how humans might fare in similar situations.

However, the experiments continued. And in 1973, the Air Force also continued equally cruel experiments with hundreds of beagle dogs, where they tied their vocal cords to prevent their barking, then subjected them to poisonous gases. When the public and NAVS learned of this, it was a total PR nightmare, as the Department of Defense "received more letters of protest then they had for bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia."

At the U.S. Army Medical Bioengineering Research and Development Laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland, beagles were given various doses of TNT until they died slow and horrible deaths. According to Singer, some of the worst military experiments are carried out at AFRI - The Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute where primates are restrained and irradiated while being cruelly shocked with high does of current if they make a mistake, this torture goes on until the chimp dies.

Infant Maternal Deprivation Experiments

Harlow discovered infant monkeys would cling to a surrogate mother, then Harlow subjected them to shocks when they did so.

It is not just the military who has performed experiments that have no value or relevance or value to human beings. Professor Harry F. Harlow who worked at the Primate Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, performed experiments with infant chimps where they were deprived of any maternal contact.

Then they created wire mothers that the infants would cling to -- then they would receive shocks, would be thrown across the room, or experience spikes poking them when they tried to cuddle with the surrogate mother.

There were over 250 experiments in the U.S. alone that repeated similar infant torture, even though it was already known of the greatly destructive impact of maternal deprivation on humans and animals. Over seven thousand monkeys were subjected to procedures to induce distress, despair, anxiety, general psychological devastation, and death. According to Singer, it is estimated that "58 million dollars of U.S. taxpayer money was spent just on this research on maternal deprivation." Any decent human being could have told you that depriving an infant of any species will suffer in these conditions. No useful science was produced by these studies.

How Many Animals Are Used in Research?

Currently it is difficult to get accurate numbers as much of animal research is done in secret. APHIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has chosen to hide information from the public that was once available on their website. NAVS has had to resort to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, which are expensive, take a long time to receive, and are greatly redacted, further hiding critical data. Since many of these experiments are done with taxpayer money, NAVS is fighting for more transparency in reporting the numbers and results of animal experiments.

In 1986 Singer recounts, that the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment attempted to determine the number of animals used in experimentation in the U.S and reported that "estimates of the animals used in the United States each year range from 10 million to upwards of 100 million." But since reporting the numbers of animals was not required, this is an estimate.

In addition to the popularly known subjects -- mice -- rats, monkeys, birds, reptiles, frogs, dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, ponies, chickens, and domestic farm animals are just some of the species used. Often it is regardless of human application, rather; it is convenience or price, that determines which animal will be selected. They are usually subjected to harsh living conditions and are experimented upon without the use of pain medication. Those that survive are usually euthanized when the researchers are finished with them.

The U.S. is not the only country doing these barbaric practices. As Singer says, "In Britain, where experimenters are required to report the number of "scientific procedures" performed on animals, official government figures show that 3.5 million scientific procedures were performed on animals in 1988."

Peter Singer states, "Among the tens of millions of experiments performed, only a few can possibly be regarded as contributing to important medical research."

Do Animals Feel Pain and Do They Suffer?

One way that researchers justified cruel treatment and murder of millions of animals in experimental contexts is the mistaken belief that animals do not feel pain physically or mentally. In other words, the belief that animals do not suffer has been used to justify continued practices of using them as tools in experiments without regard to how painful these experiments are.

Numerous studies show that all non-human animals that have been studied have the same hormonal stress response to pain and pain receptors that humans have. Even fish have been shown to feel pain. While many individuals refuse to accept this, evidence mounts every day that makes it illogical and unscientific to claim that they don't suffer. See my blog Animals Feel Pain - Just Like Us.

With so much evidence that animals feel pain, and that they suffer emotionally, it is harder to justify subjecting them to ongoing brutal experimentation that has no benefit to human health.

Some researchers will admit that animals do feel pain and that they suffer in these kinds of experiments -- because they need to claim that there is enough similarity between animals and humans in order to justify doing the experiments. But the results have not demonstrated this application in 95% of the studies, where the relevance to human medical needs is not being validated.

The Central Dilemma - Is Cruelty Justified?

Peter Singer sums up this argument: "Either the animal is not like us, in which case there is no reason for performing the experiment (because the results are not relevant); or else the animal is just like us (in terms of his or her suffering) in which case we ought not to perform on the animal an experiment that would be considered outrageous if performed on us."

Another attitude that allows some individuals to perpetuate cruel animal experiments is the belief that humans are a superior species to animals, and have the "right" to control animals as if they were property. Peter Singer argues against this hierarchical thinking. He refers to this prejudice as "speciesism" which leads to the belief that one species or -- even race of people -- has the right to control the destiny of another -- as in justifying slavery. This faulty belief implies that humans have rights that animals to do not have; such as the right to live, to not suffer unnecessarily, or to be deprived of freedom of motion (such as happens on commercial farms), companionship, and so on.

In the words of Singer, in Animal Liberation, Chapter 1, "If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with like suffering -- in so far as rough comparisons can be made -- of any other being."

Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, a position he has held since 1999. Here is Peter Singer explaining what he means by his principle of Animal Equality.

Toxicity Animal Testing

Toxicity tests to estimate the safety of products and chemicals were developed in the 1940s. These include experiments that subjectively measure the irritation of chemicals in the eyes or on the skin of rabbits (the infamous Draize test), and lethal dose (LD50) experiments that determine toxicity by the dosage of a chemical that kills half of the animals forced to consume, breathe, or be injected with that chemical. These primitive animal testing methods are, regrettably, still in use today.

Many scientists continue to rely on animal testing, even though the results are 92-95% inaccurate for humans, according to NAVS. For example, if Aspirin had to be tested today, it never would have made it to market because it is toxic for dogs. Each species has unique responses to chemicals and toxicity, for example, chocolate, Xylitol (a sugar substitute) blueberries, onions, and grapes can make dogs quite ill, but they are obviously safe for humans.

Animal testing of pesticides such as weed killers and insect repellants can require the death of 10,000 animals for one chemical. It is not only inefficient, costly, and cruel, but it is an unreliable test, and the science of animal testing is outdated.

The Humane Society International (HSI) is one group trying to educate scientists that there are now more accurate methods that can eliminate 90% of the need for animal testing using cellular testing of human cells and computer modeling. These methods are more accurate for how humans will respond and don't involve animal cruelty.

In the current animal tests of pesticides, "groups of beagle dogs are subject to daily pesticide poisoning – either by force-feeding of a capsule or being forced to eat food laced with a pesticide – for an entire year. The scientific basis of the test has been widely discredited, so much so that we’ve successfully convinced the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, the European Union, and Canada to stop requiring it. However, this test is still a legal requirement in Brazil. As a result, this cruel and unnecessary test is still being conducted to satisfy this major market." (HSI)

Cosmetic Animal Testing

According to the Humane Society International, "We estimate that approximately 100,000-200,000 animals suffer and die just for cosmetics every year around the world. These are rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, and mice." Videos on their website give examples of how cruel some of these experiments are, but the images were too horrific for me to post here.

For more information, please have a look at this guide to Cruelty-Free Cosmetics and skincare from The Derm Review.

While dogs and monkeys are not used to test cosmetics anywhere in the world, they are used to test other types of chemicals." Volkswagon, for example, put macaque monkeys in sealed cages, made them watch cartoons, and then injected emissions from the Beetle cars for four hours at a time until they clawed to get out and collapsed. Later they were subjected to inhalation from another car model. Monkeys were chosen partly because other species tested were able to tolerate the toxic emissions. And then, it was exposed that Volkswagon had falsely claimed their emissions were safer than they actually were.

Volkswagon used these monkeys to "prove" their emissions were safe, but were caught falsifying the results

There are better methods of testing that are cheaper, more accurate for humans, that don't involve animal testing or only minimal animal testing in some cases. These tests of human cells and computer modeling are more useful and take much less time than animal testing. The public must be educated that there are better ways to make a safer world for humans and the other animals we share the world with.

This rabbit was beautiful enough -- before

Whereas most animals die as a result of animal experiments, there are thousands of kittens, dogs and chimps that survive. Usually they are euthanized by the experimenters. But there are a few organizations that are trying to get these animals adopted. The VA has promised it will do so, but have yet to deliver on this promise. White Coat Waste Project seeks to change this.

NAVS UPDATE: The Good News! Progress!

Retired Research Chimp enjoys a treat at Chimp Haven

There are eleven states that give dogs and cats used in research a second chance to be rescued. They are: CA, CT, DE, IL, MD, MN, NV, NY, OR, RI and WA.

There are five states that have laws banning use of animals for cosmetics safety testing and some ban animal-tested cosmetics. They are: IL, NJ, NV, NY, and VA.

44% of Americans believe that medical testing on animals is "morally wrong." This is up from 26% of individuals who believed this in 2001.

The Bad News: Primate Research is on the rise. Talk to your elected officials and let them know how you feel about these issues. As well as the fact the APHIS has reduced their citations by about 50%, not because conditions have improved, but because they have taken to warning labs of upcoming visits, lack of staff, and other reasons.

There are a few Chimp Sanctuaries that take retired research chimps such as Primates Incorporated whose Executive Director, Amy Kerwin, who formerly worked in a primate laboratory and saw first hand what they were subjected to. Save the Chimps in Florida, has many from the space programs.

Chimp Haven is another rescue organization that takes Chimps liberated from labs, or roadside attractions. Many of them in time are able to have happy, peaceful lives at Chimp Haven sanctuary in Louisiana. This is inspiring that after a lifetime of captivity and abuse, they are able to heal. That is one useful thing we can learn from all the carnage -- that healing is possible given the right safety, comfort, social connection, medical intervention and love! There are almost 300 retired chimps who will live their lives out in play and in expressing their natural desires for connection.

Here are some pictures of Kaya and Maxi, a couple of retired chimps at Chimp Haven. One can only wonder about the stories they are telling each other.

Chimp Haven's rescued chimps after being research subjects

Even though chimps have memory of their past, then can also choose to be happy in the present. This is one lesson that is valuable for humans.

Genie Joseph, PhD


The Human-Animal Connection