2020 reports of the European Commission revealed that more than 23 million animals were impacted by scientific practices in the EU in 2017, including dogs, rabbits and even our closest genetic relatives, primates. They are used in research into human diseases and conditions, to test different substances for safety, for educational purposes, and in fundamental research
EU Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes requires Member States to collect statistics on the numbers of animals used for scientific purposes. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France were the countries with the highest number of procedures on animals with 6, 5.6 and 4 million animals used respectively in 2017. More than half of the animals affected by scientific practices (12.6 million) are animals bred and killed without actually being used in experiments. For those animals that are used in procedures, around half are used for fundamental research, such as to explore biological processes, without having a clearly defined potential applied benefit for humans’ or other animals’ health, or for the environment.
The great majority of experiments inflict suffering on the animals. For some species, confinement alone causes suffering. A study in 2006 identified many potential stressors that may adversely affect animals living in captivity, including artiﬁcial lighting, exposure to loud sounds or odours, uncomfortable temperatures, restricted movement, reduced retreat space, forced proximity to humans, reduced feeding opportunities, and being forced to live in abnormal social groups.
In non-human primates, invasive or intrusive techniques can lead to mutilations, psychosomatic injuries and even physiology traits that have been compared to those of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because non-human primates are our closest relatives, they are assumed to be good ‘models’ for human diseases but in fact numerous studies agree that animal experimentation seldomly delivers on its main promise, which is better healthcare for humans.
Scientists leading the innovation in animal-free methods have been putting forward new visions where strategic combinations of these methods can provide explanatory models of diseases in humans. The University of Wageningen has been able to substitute animal-free methods for 80% of all animal tests in their food research, and is aiming to increase this percentage.
In general, though, our long-term reliance on animal-based research has led to practices that are strongly rooted in regulation and in our social and scientific norms making change difficult.