LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ANIMAL-TESTING CRUEL, INACCURATE AND UNNECESSARY
I am appalled that an elected representative such as Malacca Chief Minister Mohamad Ali Rustam could defend animal-testing on such flimsy grounds and invoke faith and the name of the Creator on what is essentially a scientific issue.
The CM further stated that "eating animals could also be seen as cruel, and yet it is widely accepted". The CM must be very naive indeed to believe that there is no opposition to the factory farming of animals. The worldwide poultry and livestock farming industry is under immense pressure from consumers and civil society groups to improve the living conditions of animals raised for food, and the increasing number of people turning to vegetarianism and free-range farmed animals is testimony to this.
The consumption of animals and the use of animals in research, however, are two different issues. Proponents of animal testing argue that animals are enough like us for experiments on their bodies to be truly useful, but so unlike us that we need not worry about the plight of the animal. The opposite appears to be true. Because animals differ from humans in so many ways, particularly in the way they process chemicals, animal experimentation has generally not proven rewarding in critical fields such as cancer research. Yet animal research is successful in the field of emotion, in studies such as those for depression-alleviating drugs and in the famous 'maternal deprivation' monkey experiments, because animals are very similar to humans emotionally. If animals suffer as we do, how can we justify the cruelty committed against them?
While some will argue that progress would not have been made in modern medicine if animals hadn’t been used as test subjects, there has been just as many failures, if not more. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, 92% of drugs that show promise in animals fail in clinical trials, making the continued use of animals unjustifiable not only on an ethical scale, but on a scientific one as well. Statistical evidence reveals that drugs that cure cancer in mice do not work, or at best, work minimally, in people.
Conversely, drugs that kill animals might have saved human lives, as the vast majority of cancer treatments are rejected because they failed at animal testing stage. There are many people termed terminally ill who would be willing to be medical test and research subjects, if only the laws would allow it. While million of animals die in research laboratories, millions of people may die because of the reliance on animal testing.
Animal research is not only cruel, but grossly inadequate due to the differing effects of drugs on different species. Animal testing teaches us very little, if anything, about how humans would respond to certain drugs. They only show us how certain animals may respond to the drugs tested on them. Penicilin in large doses, for example, is fatal to guinea pigs but rarely so in humans. Aspirin causes birth defects in mice and rats. Ibuprofen causes kidney failure in dogs, even at very low doses. Cancer testing on mice is ineffective because most mouse tumours originate in different types of tissues from human tissues. Putting human tissue into mice does not solve the problem as human cells are likely to behave and respond differently in a mouse than in a human body. According to "Nature" magazine, of the potential anticancer drugs that give promising results in tests on mice with cancer, only about 11% are ever approved for use in humans.
The low correlation between species for substance tests works the other way as well. Substances that have no ill effect on animals may kill humans. Sheep have no problems enjoying arsenic, and strychnine is safe for a monkey in doses that would wipe out half a dozen people. Thalidomide was tested as safe for use in cats, armadillos, guinea pigs, swine and ferrets. Smoking vast quantities of cigarettes did not cause lung cancer in dogs or rats.
The idea that it is not ethical to use human volunteers in experiments but is ethical to do absolutely anything we want to non-humans must be challenged. The proponents of animal-testing are in favour of it because it spells big business for many stakeholders, including dog-catching contractors employed by local authorities. It is accepted that tests on humans would be more accurate than tests on other animals, but we don't test drugs with a real risk of death on humans because society finds it ethically unacceptable. However, alternatives already exist for many forms of animal testing.
Because of the ban on animal-testing in the European Union, companies have been forced to come up with alternatives. For example, L'Oreal came up with Episkin, a reconstructed human skin that has been approved for the testing of cosmetics. Episkin layers are grown on collagen, using skin cells left over from breast surgery. Independent tests have shown that in many cases, Episkin is able to predict more accurately than animal tests how a person will react to products.
Other alternatives to animal testing include 'in vitro' cell culture techniques and computer simulation programmes using data from prior animal experiments. Human volunteers are also employed in allergy and skin irritancy tests. Donated human blood is used in accurate and quick pyrogenicity tests to determine if pharmaceutical products and intravenous drugs would cause inflammation or fever when they interact with immune system cells. Non-animal alternatives for toxicology tests include QSAR models and 'in vitro' testing on cell and tissue culture. Toxin Binding Inhibition (ToBI) Tests are now being employed to test vaccines.
Although these alternatives to animal testing are not without their limitations, the moral task of the scientific and medical community is to improve on these methods and discover and develop better non-animal alternatives. Governments should be funding the search for alternatives at a much greater level than they are funding animal experimentation.
Those working to phase out animal experiments advocate the 3Rs: reduction (by encouraging companies, by legislation if necessary, to share experimental data and thus reducing the need for animal testing and eliminating duplication of research), refinement (by improving the welfare and living conditions of the animals and minimising suffering ) and ultimately, the replacement of animal experiments with viable alternatives.
To assume that animal experimentation is the only way we can make any progress in medical research is to underestimate human intelligence and innovation. And to dismiss animal rights activists as dreamers and idealists is to fail to take into consideration the growing population of rational and empowered people who realise that compassion to all living beings is the hallmark of a civilised society, and that human health need never be at the expense of animal lives, not when so many alternatives and solutions exist.
For the above reasons, the plans to set up an animal testing facility in Melaka must be dropped.
WONG EE LYNN