Given that the argument against the use of animals in experiments is so strong, why is animal experimentation still happening?
The short answer is that logically, it shouldn't be.
The longer answer is that there are many barriers in place that are preventing progress!
There are still legal requirements for animal testing in NZ law. These are holding up progress. They leave no room for validated animal-free methods to be used.
There isn't any funding exclusively available for replacing the use of animals in science in NZ. Without funding, how will we ever see developments in this area?
If Kiwis could see what goes on in animal labs, then there would be public outrage. Our society wouldn’t permit it, and animal experimentation would lose its social license. This is why campaigns focusing on public awareness are important!
This lack of transparency and openness also affects researchers. For example, there is no central hub containing all current or past research that has involved animals in NZ. Animal experiments could be repeated all the time and no one would ever know. Information about alternatives and replacement methods isn't shared either.
Our current laws and regulations aren't up to speed with current scientific knowledge. Decision-makers are hesitant to step away from the status quo and embrace animal-free and human-relevant science. The renowned quote by Grace Hopper explains this well - “the most dangerous phrase in the English language is: We've always done it this way."
This is also why animal-free methods are often required to be validated against animal-based methods before they are accepted by regulators. However, this could make them less accurate.1
The animal experimentation industry is a global multi-billion-dollar industry, and there are many stakeholders that benefit. From suppliers of animals (those who breed animals to be used in animal-based research), and suppliers of equipment (such as cages, stereotaxic frames for animal surgery and behaviour testing chambers) to universities, and funders, many people are making a lot of money from this industry. According to Research and Markets, the global animal testing market was valued at over 10 billion USD (~ 16 billion NZD) in 2019 and is continuing to grow.2
Even though the global market for non-animal alternative testing is growing too (and at more than double the rate of animal testing), it was still “only” valued at around 1.1 billion USD (~ 1.7 billion NZD). Replacement is happening, but it is slow (due to the many barriers listed on this page).
Animal experimentation is often perceived as justified – that the death of a few hundred mice is worth it if it’s going to save people. In reality, this choice doesn’t exist. We do not need to choose between the life of a mouse or the life of a human. Not only can we both live but by removing animals from the equation and focusing on human-based research instead, we’ll inevitably be able to increase the chances of helping people in need. This misconception helps maintain the social license of animal experimentation.
It is easier to publish animal-based papers than human-based ones as generally they take less time, often cost less, and ethics approval is easier to get.
Sadly, many scientific journals and funders of research encourage (or require) animal use in research.3 This makes funding and publishing animal-free research harder. Publishing papers can enhance the academic prestige and influence of the researcher. And while they do not earn money directly from it (the journals do through their subscriptions), the researcher risks to loose funding or a desired promotion if they don’t publish often enough. This is called the “publish-or-perish” paradigm,4 which can lead to research for publication rather than for scientific advancement.
Members of the animal science and research community don't have many incentives driving them toward animal-free research. Available funding is a huge problem (mentioned above), and the absence of a unified direction is another — there is no overarching strategy to replace the use of animals in science wherever possible. So members of this community have nothing to look to for guidance.
There is hope for a better future — we are targeting these key barriers with our Striking at the Source campaign! Read more about this important campaign and how you can get involved here.