It may come as a surprise for many, but rats and mice are not the only species which are used in labs for testing. The list of animals used in these labs also includes various domesticated and wild species.
On one hand, we have tigers, rhinos, elephants, and other such species which are protected by numerous laws, and on the other, we have species like mice, guinea pigs, and non-human primates which are tortured (sometimes to death) under the garb of research. It is estimated that more than a million animals die upon being subjected to various laboratory procedures across the globe every single year.
It is very difficult to compile data about this torturous practice as no written records about the same are maintained, and therefore, one has to depend on estimates in order to collect data and compile reports on the same. Animals are subjected to lab tests involving testing of chemicals, drugs, cosmetics, as well as biological studies and medical experiments.
Animal Testing in the United States
In the United States, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 is the only Federal law which regulates the treatment of animals in various field―including animal testing. Sadly though, this law has no provisions for the protection of most of the animal species which are subjected to torturous procedures in labs across the country. Of the various animal species used for testing, around 95 percent comprise rodents, birds, and reptiles. However, the Animal Welfare Act has no rules in place to protect these species.
It just has a basic set of guidelines pertaining to proper care, housing, and treatment of laboratory animals. As a result of this, and the fact that there is no monitoring authority to look into the matter, the number of animals subjected to testing (or killed during testing) goes unreported. Whilst going through the pros and cons of this practice, you will notice that its positives are easily overshadowed by its negatives. The companies though, seem to be more than happy turning a blind eye to its cons and swearing by its negligible pros.
Species Used for Testing
When we talk about lab animals, the names that are likely to come to your mind include mice, rats, guinea pigs, frogs, etc. The fact though, is that this list is far more lengthy that what you think, and features several species, ranging from fruit flies and nematodes to dogs and non-human primates. It is impossible to find out the exact number of invertebrates used in testing as most of the species do not feature in the list of protected animals. More importantly, their small size makes it easier for the researchers to handle them.
Mice share 99 percent of their genes with humans, have a fast reproduction rate, and can be handled easily. All these traits make them one of the most popular species when it comes to medical research. Coming a close second are rats, which are widely used in cancer research and toxicology. The fact that genetic manipulation of rats is difficult, restricts their use in basic scientific experiments. Approximately 20 million rodents are subjected to animal experimentation in the United States alone every year.
In cosmetic industry, the research requires applying all the chemicals used in cosmetics on the eyes and skin of these animals. Albino rabbits are typically characterized by traits such as less tear flow as compared to other animals and lack of eye pigment, which puts them at the top of the list of animals used for testing cosmetics. The lack of eye pigment makes it easier for the researchers to study the visual effects of these cosmetics. Rabbits are used to test products which have the possibility of resulting in irritation of skin in humans.
Similarly, frogs are used in neurological as well as cloning research on a large scale. In fact, the link between electricity and the nervous system was determined on the basis of experiments on this very species.
Cats and dogs, which make ideal pets, are also used in various experiments. While cats are used in neurological research, dogs are used in biomedical research. Docile species such as the beagle are often subjected to cruelty in the garb of animal experimentation. Not many people out there would need any introduction to Laika―the first animal to orbit the planet. This was perhaps one of the most famous case of animal experimentation in the history.
Other than all these animals, non-human primates are also quite popular among researchers. They are used in toxicity testing, studies on infectious diseases, behavioral studies, genetics, and much more. While some of these primate species are caught from the wild, others are bred specifically for research purpose.
A significant proportion of these tests are financed by the federal authorities. What is worse, is the fact that all this is done when there is no law which makes it mandatory for the companies to test their products on various animals before launching them. There do exist quite a few alternatives to animal testing which are more efficient in terms of cost incurred and reliability. It’s high time we give due priority to animal rights and lend our support to various organizations working for animal welfare. After all, even they deserve to live!