The BBC News reported that a new development in the EU would boost the welfare of animals used in labs. The EU has introduced rules designed to protect animals in labs that will apply across all member nations. Some nations, like the UK, will still have regulations that exceed the EU’s rules but a minimum will apply across borders. The article then quotes Samira Gazzane of the anti-vivisection group BUAV as saying:
"We're very unhappy that some definitions are very unclear," she told the BBC . . . Ms Gazzane of BUAV says the EU needs clear targets for finding alternatives to animal testing.
While I am sure that Ms Gazzane means well, I completely disagree with her position that alternatives to animal testing are needed.
The BBC article and Ms Gazzane’s comments address the use of animals in traditional research and testing. Such use is thought by society to make drugs safer and to predict how humans respond to diseases like HIV/AIDS. In fact, there are no alternatives to these uses. Just as there is no alternative to driving a truck to Mars so there is no alternative to using animals in traditional drug testing; for example in testing for efficacy absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination, and toxicity. The use of animals in drug testing is simply not predictive for humans. Continuing to use them as such is an exercise in futility and a costly one at that.
Ms Gazzane’s comments reinforce society’s incorrect notion that animal models are predictive (otherwise why would anyone need alternatives). I am aware that many in the animal protection movement mean replacing animals regardless of the viability of the use when they use the word alternatives. But society is not a mind reader nor should animal protection groups require them to be. If words are to have meaning, alternatives to using animals in testing do not exist.
Alternatives are needed for other uses of animals in science and indeed some alternatives do exist. The uses of animals as bioassays, to grow certain viruses and so forth are scientifically viable. If animal protection organizations want to raise money by appearing in the media and showing out that how much they care about animals, in the case pointing out that alternatives are needed, they should at least specify where animal models are viable and where they are not; where alternatives are actually needed.
I challenge Ms Gazzane and the BUAV to produce data proving that animal models can be used to predict drugs and disease response and, if they are unable, to stop saying society needs to develop alternatives to using animals in testing. BUAV should clearly say what it means and what it does not.
(I address this topic more thoroughly in my essay How animal protection groups are delaying the end of vivisection and refer the interested reader there.)