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Subject: Animal Rights Myths FAQ v1.2 (1/2)

This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:23:05 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: politics/animal-rights/myths
All FAQs posted in: talk.politics.animals, uk.politics.animals, sci.bio.misc
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Archive-Name: politics/animal-rights/myths/part1 Posting-Frequency: Monthly
ANIMAL RIGHTS MYTHS FAQ v1.2 CONTENTS 1 INTRODUCTION 2 MYTHS 3 WHERE TO GET RELIABLE INFORMATION ABOUT BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH 4 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 1 INTRODUCTION This FAQ has been compiled to help aid informed debate on the use of animals in biomedical research. Debate on the subject on newsgroups like talk.politics.animals (t.p.a.) and uk.politics.animals (uk.p.a.) is hampered by the fact that the same familiar myths about the use of animals in research continually resurface. Many of these have an urban myth-like quality and/or are lifted straight from the publications of animal rights (AR) organisations by newcomers unaware of the real facts. This FAQ gives the true stories behind a series of AR myths, where appropriate citing references to primary sources which allow readers to check the facts for themselves. The information collected here shows that AR myths have no more basis in fact than other urban legends like the 'vanishing hitchhiker' and 'dead grandmother on the roof-rack' stories. My hope is that the debunking of these myths will encourage a higher standard of debate on the newsgroups concerned. The FAQ will be posted on t.p.a.,uk.p.a., talk.answers and news.answers each month. It is also available on the WWW at http://www.compulink.co.uk/~embra/armyths.html. New readers of t.p.a. and uk.p.a. are encouraged to refer to this FAQ before rushing to post some untrue horror story lifted from the latest PETA press release. You are also encouraged to provide examples of other AR myths for inclusion in this FAQ. Send them to kevin@embra.compulink.co.uk. I have included a collection of internet resources where further reliable information about biomedical research can be found. Although this FAQ is compiled by me, and I take responsibility for all errors, I have collected material from a variety for sources, which are credited in the acknowledgements section. Kevin O'Donnell 2 March 1997 kevin@embra.compulink.co.uk 2 ANIMAL RIGHTS MYTHS MYTH 2.1: "Animals are so different from people that research using animals is not worthwhile." In fact, all mammals have the same basic organs - heart, lungs, kidney, liver etc., performing the same functions and co-ordinated in the same way. These major similarities outweigh minor differences, although these minor differences can themselves provide useful information. For example, if we knew why muscular dystrophy in mice caused less muscle wasting than in humans, this might lead to a treatment for the disease. A gauge of the biological similarity between animals and humans is the fact that insulin from pigs was used successfully to treat human diabetics for several decades. Around a third of medicines used by vets are also used in the treatment of humans. A list of 350 animal diseases with a human counterpart has been compiled (1) by the veterinarian Charles Cornelius, who states that the study of animal diseases with a view to providing treatment for the human counterpart is a "neglected resource". Another reference is the Encyclopaedia Britannica which in the section on "Animal Disease" lists diseases common to animals and humans and states that " it is likely that for every known human disease, an identical or similar human disease exists in at least one other species". 1. Cornelius, C E (1969) New Eng. J. Med. vol. 281: 934-945 ****** MYTH 2.2: "Animal testing is unreliable, because side-effects are not detected in animals." AR propaganda often gives the impression that many medicines have been withdrawn because side effects occur in humans but not in animals. In fact, the final stage of any clinical trial is a test involving human 3-5,000 human volunteers. If a side-effect is so rare that it occurs in, say, only 1 in 10,000 people then this stage of the clinical trial will miss it - but that can hardly be blamed on animal testing. The true scale of the problem can be judged from the fact that of the 2,000 drugs on the market since 1961, less than 40 have been withdrawn in the UK, US, France or Germany due to serious side-effects. This indicates a success rate of 98% for drug testing procedures. Only 10 drugs have been withdrawn from all 4 countries (2). As so few drugs have actually been withdrawn, AR propaganda sometimes tries to give the impression that a great many medicines which have not been withdrawn from sale also cause harmful side-effects and quote figures for the number of people affected. In fact, on examination, these figures are found to consist largely of accidental and deliberate overdoses (1). 1. Jick H (1974) Drugs - Remarkably Nontoxic New Eng. J. Med. vol 291: 824-828 2. Spriet-Pourra C & Auriche M (1994) Drug Withdrawal From Sale. 2nd Edition, PJB Publications Ltd. ***** Here is some more specific information about examples frequently cited in AR propaganda. MYTH 2.2.1: "Penicillin is toxic to guinea pigs but not humans" One of my favourite AR myths this one, because it is a good illustration of a favourite AR tactic, the half truth. The reaction of the guinea-pig to penicillin was first described in a scientific paper in 1943(1). High daily doses of very impure penicillin killed 95% of guinea-pigs within 3-4 days. So far, so true. However, when the purity was increased tenfold, 60% died. We now know that even these preparations were only 60% pure. It is quite likely, and is actually suggested in the 1943 paper, that the impurities in the early samples of penicillin were responsible for some of the toxicity. The paper also went to great pains to emphasise that when given the same dose of penicillin as used in humans, no toxic effects were observed. What is really interesting is why high doses of penicillin kills guinea pigs - it is nothing to do with the toxicity of penicillin itself. The high doses kill the natural bacterial fauna of the guinea pig intestine, leading to colonisation by other types of bacteria and subsequent blood poisoning (2). The same phenomenon is observed in humans who take large doses of antibiotic over a long period. Thus it appears that the guinea pig, far from being strikingly different from humans, is in fact similar to the many patients who develop inflammation of the colon (colitis) when they take penicillin. 1. Hamre D M et al (1943) Am. J. Med. Sci. vol.206: 64 2. De Somer P et al (1955) Ant. Chem. vol.5: 463 ***** MYTH 2.2.2: "Morphine sedates humans but excites cats" In fact, morphine has the same effect on cats as on humans! This seems to stem from a paper reporting the effect of morphine on cats. 3mg/kg caused no excitement, whereas 20mg/kg produced marked excitement (1). This dose is 50-200 times that administered to humans for pain-killing purposes (0.1-0.2mg/kg). A similar dose in cats produces the same effects as in humans (2). Dosage levels that produce excitation in cats also produce excitation in humans (3). 1. Sturtevant FM & Drill VA (1957) Nature vol. 179:1253 2. Davis LE & Donnely EJ (1968) J. Am. Vet. Med. Ass. vol. 153: 1161 3. Human Pharmacology (1991) Eds Wingard LB, Brody TM, Larner J & Schwartz A. Wolfe Publishing Ltd. ***** MYTH 2.2.3: "Chloroform anaesthetises humans but kills dogs." In fact, chloroform is equally toxic to humans! Chloroform was first used as an anaesthetic in midwifery in 1846, when a paper was published showing that it induced unconsciousness in animals (1). However, following a high incidence of deaths, its toxicity in a number of species was investigated. It was found to be similar to that in humans (2). For this reason, chloroform never gained widespread use. A standard pharmacology textbook describes chloroform as follows: "Chloroform is hepatotoxic and nephrotoxic. Even with current techniques for precise administration, its toxicity exceeds that of other agents. cardiac arrhythmias are not infrequent and can lead to cardiac arrest." (3) 1. Florens M (1847) Comptes Rendus vol. 24: 342 2. Wakely TH (1848) Lancet vol. i: 19 3. Goodman & Gilman (1980) The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 6th Ed., Macmillan. ***** MYTH 2.2.4 "Thalidomide passed animal tests with 'flying colours'." This is a particularly distasteful lie because it attempts to exploit people's concern for the disabled. Some 30 years ago, the drug thalidomide was prescribed to women in early pregnancy to overcome the unpleasantness of morning sickness. It was soon clear that this had the most appalling effect of damaging the developing embryo. It is often claimed by AR propaganda that these effects were not shown in animal tests. In fact, thalidomide was never tested on pregnant animals before it was used in humans - it was not realised at that time that a drug could have a harmful effect on the foetus but not the mother. This showed up a serious weakness in the way that testing is carried out and changes have now been made. However, after the effects of thalidomide had been established and the drug withdrawn, the same effects were shown to occur in a variety of animals (1-5). In the US, thalidomide was never approved by the US Food and Drug administration because they were not satisfied with the level of testing carried out in Europe. The lesson of the thalidomide tragedy is that it was not animal experimentation that was at fault - but *too little* animal experimentation. 1.DiPaolo JA (1963). Congenital malformation in strain A mice: its experimental production by thalidomide. JAMA vol.183: 139-141 2 King CTG &; Kendrick FJ (1962). Teratogenic effects of thalidomide in the Sprague Dawley rat. The Lancet: ii: 1116 3. Homburger F, Chaube S, Eppenberger M, Bogdonoff PD and Nixon CW (1965). Susceptibility of certain inbred strains of hamsters teratogenic effects of thalidomide. Toxicol Appl Pharmaco vol.: 686-69 4. Hamilton WJ & Poswillo DE (1972). Limb reduction anomalies induced in the marmoset by thalidomide. J Anat vol.11:505-50 5. Hendrick AG, Axelrod LR & Clayborn LD (1966). Thalidomide syndrome in baboons Nature vol. 210: 958-95 ***** MYTH 2.2.5 "Aspirin is highly poisonous to cats and causes birth defects in rats and mice - but not humans" In fact, aspirin is only toxic to cats in doses far higher than those used by humans. For example, 60mg/kg of aspirin given 5 times in one day produced death in cats within 36 hours of the first dose (1). This is equivalent to an average man consuming 60 tablets in one day. In fact the plasma concentration of aspirin at the time of the cats' death was 60mg/100ml - 3 times the level that produces severe toxic effects in man. The birth defects myth is equally groundless. The doses of aspirin shown to produce birth defects in rats were 150mg/kg twice a day throughout organogenesis (2) or 250mg daily throughout pregnancy (3). The equivalent human dose would be 55 or 46 tablets a day respectively for a 55kg woman. Not surprisingly, human data for similar dosage levels does not exist! However one paper (4) does describe 8 cases of fetal abnormality in mothers who took large does of aspirin during pregnancy. A retrospective study of 833 patients who took large amounts of aspirin during the first trimester of pregnancy showed a significant increase in fetal malformation (5). 1) Davis LE and Donnelly EJ (1968) J. Amer . Vet. Med. Ass. Vol. 153:1161 2)Wilson, Ritter, Scott and Fradkin (1977) Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. vol.41:67 3) McColl, Globus and Robinson (1965) Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. vol.7:409 4)McNeil (1973) Clin. Paediat. vol.12:347 5)Richards (1969) Brit. J. Prevent Soc. Med. vol.23:218 ***** MYTH 2.3 "Animal research has made no contribution to medical progress." Between 1992 and 1994, the Research Defence Society published a series of leaflets giving the numbers of patients benefiting from developments arising from animal research in the UK each year: 50,000,000 prescriptions for antibiotics 30,000,000 prescriptions for asthma 3,000,000 operations under local or general anaesthetics 180,000 diabetics kept alive with insulin 90,000 cataract operations 60,000 joint operations 15,000 coronary bypasses 10,000 pacemakers implanted 6,000 heart valve repairs or replacements 4,000 congenital heart defects corrected 2,500 corneal transplants 2,000 kidney transplants 400 heart or heart/lung transplants The figures relating to surgical procedures in this table were the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, an independent UK body which ensures that adverts and publicity material are "legal, decent, honest, truthful". The complaint was brought by an animal rights group (who presumably thought that the other figures were beyond reproach). The ASA found that the RDS leaflet did indeed meet their standards (1). 1. ASA Monthly Report April, 1996. ***** MYTH 2.4 "Laboratory animals suffer great pain and distress" Most animal procedures involve only mild procedures such as a single injection, a blood sample or a change of diet. Where significant pain or distress could be caused, pain killers or anaesthetics must be used. In fact, for most procedures this is not necessary (2). In the UK, all experiments must be approved by an independent Inspectorate who have the power to remove the license for using animals from any project, person or facility which does not meet these criteria (1). Most other countries have similar laws. 1. Animal (Scientific Procedures ) Act, 1986 2. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (1995) HMSO, London ***** MYTH 2.5 "Most animal research consists of cosmetics testing." In reality, hardly any is. The UK's Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act ensures that statistics relevant to animal research are collated and published each year. The latest figures show that only 0.1% of all procedures involving animals were for cosmetics testing (1). It is worth noting that *none* of this was for finished beauty products. In fact many things classified as cosmetics are quasi-medical, such as sun screens and contact lens solutions. *If* we need new cosmetics and toiletries then they must be tested for safety and as yet there are no methods to replace the use of animals in all instances. The European Community was committed to ending the use of animals for cosmetics testing in member countries. However, it has had to postpone this ban because alternatives to animal testing are not available. The only other options are to ban all new products and ingredients which would come under the cosmetics designation or to redefine 'cosmetics' to mean 'finished beauty products' (which is what most people think it is anyway). This would immediately reduce the number of animals used to test cosmetics to zero! 1. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (1995) HMSO, London. ***** MYTH 2.6 "The use of animals is unnecessary because alternative methods can be used." There is no alternative to the use of whole organisms. Where alternatives do exist, they are used - because they are cheaper and because, in the UK at least, the law requires it (1). The British Association for the Advancement of Science produced a Declaration on Animals in Medical Research (2) which includes the statement: "Continued research involving animals is essential for the conquest of many unsolved medical problems, such as cancer, AIDS, other infectious diseases, and genetic, developmental, neurological and psychiatric conditions" It goes on to say that: "The comprehensive legislation governing the use of animals in scientific research must be strictly adhered to. Those involved must respect animal life, using animals only when essential and as humanely as possible, and they should adopt alternative methods as soon as they are proved to be reliable." The statement is signed by over 1000 eminent doctors and scientists, including 31 Nobel prize winners. It is a good example of the commitment of biomedical researchers to the 3 Rs - Refinement, Reduction and Replacement - as the basis for the use of animals in research. As soon as alternative methods become available, they are used. In fact, animal experiments account for only 5 pence of every pound donated to UK medical charities. Methods such as computer programmes and cell culture are in fact widely used as complementary methods to animal testing. However cell tissue culture, often cited by AR propaganda as an 'alternative method' has in fact a requirement for specially produced animal products and so is not a true non-animal method, something detailed below. 1. Animals (Scientific procedures) Act, 1986 2. Animals and the Advancement of Science (1990), BAAS ***** MYTH 2.6.1 "Cell/Tissue Culture is an alternative to the use of animals in research" Tissue culture is often cited in AR literature as an alternative to the use of animals. This consists of monolayers of cells of a specific type e.g. liver grown in culture medium. Of course, such monolayers cannot replicate the interaction between different types of cells that occurs in the body but they are nevertheless very useful tools. What they are not however, is an alternative to the use of animals. Cell cultures have been mainly of animal cells in the past, however the advent of a company specialising in human tissue culture, Pharmgene, led some AR organisations to claim that animal experiments could now end. this is not a view shared by Pharmgene themselves, who state "There are many purposes for which animals will still have to be used for various aspects of the discovery and development process, particularly where information in the whole organism is required." (1). Remember, this is a company with a vested interest in cell cultures. This myth is also untrue from another point of view because cell cultures have an absolute requirement for animal products. this is because the medium in which the cells are grown requires animal serum, usually in the form of fetal bovine serum. This is extracted from new- born or fetal calves, mainly collected from abattoirs. As this is classed as an abattoir by- product, it does not come under the control of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. The serum is also tested for the presence of a range of pathogens. For example, Sigma test their FBS for Bovine Viral Diahorrea, Bovine Adenovirus type i and V, Bovine Parvovirus, Infectious Bovine Rhinotrachitillis, Parainfluenza type 3, Rabies and Reovirus (2). All of these assays require antibodies produced in animals. The production of such antibodies is covered by the ASP. From an animal welfare point of view, the difference between the humane use of a mouse and the use of an aborted calf is not immediately obvious. 1. Interview with Pharmagene, RDS News Oct. 1996 2. Certificate of Analysis for FBS, Sigma Cell Culture, 1995 MYTH 2.7 "Vaccines and antibiotics have achieved nothing. Clean water and good sanitation are all that is needed to fight disease." This is another half-truth. Clean water and good sanitation are undoubtedly very important - but they are not the whole story. By the 1940s and 50s, when clean water and good sanitation were standard in the UK, there were still hundreds of thousands of cases of these often fatal diseases every year. The introduction of vaccines to prevent diseases and antibiotics to treat them when they did occur had a dramatic effect, virtually eradicating, and in some cases totally eradicating, diseases such as TB, diphtheria and cholera. For example, there were still over 50,000 new cases of TB in the UK in 1950. It was only the development of effective vaccines and drugs, through medical research in which animals were vital, that made TB both preventable and treatable. Similarly, in 1940 in the UK, diphtheria was affecting 50,000 people a year. The mass diphtheria immunisation campaign - resulting from medical research involving animals - then began. By 1950 the death rate was near zero. The problem of infectious diseases in the third world is largely an economic one: people and governments in the third world do not have the resources to combat disease effectively. Hundreds of millions of people suffer and die from parasitic diseases, few of which can be treated or cured simply and cheaply, if at all. In theory public health measures could of course reduce the devastating effects of these diseases, but the investment required would be colossal. Effective and cheap vaccines are the best solution, and it is hard to see how these could be developed without some animal research. ***** MYTH 2.8 "Many pointless, unnecessary experiments are carried out using animals." This assertion defies logic. Why on earth would companies, charities and funding-cut stricken public sector scientists want to waste money in this way? Animal experiments are much more expensive than non-animal ones - that's one reason why animal are only used when no other method would do. However, we need not rely only on common-sense to tell us that this myth is wrong: Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986, project licences are only granted if the potential results are important enough to justify the use of animals and if non-animal methods cannot be used (1). 1. Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986 ***** MYTH 2.9 "The reason animals are used in research is to make money." Animals are only used in research where no other method is possible. Much research is carried out by non-profit making bodies like public laboratories and charities. Whereas it is true that pharmaceutical companies exist to make a profit, the same can be said of any company whatsoever. Even the companies that print AR literature or producers of vegetarian food. However pharmaceutical companies would *lose* money if they carried out more animal experiments than were necessary. As noted in 2.8, animal experiments are expensive. That is why many of them have active research programmes to develop more non-animal methods. ***** MYTH 2.10 "Most animals used in research are cats, dogs or monkeys." In fact, hardly any are. AR propaganda relies heavily on out of date photographs of large animals (and at least one AR organisation has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for using advertising material which does this). The real figures (1) are: Rats and mice 83% Fish , birds and reptiles 12% Other small mammals 3% Large mammals (cows, etc.) 1.3% Dogs and cats 0.4% Primates 0.2% 1. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (1995) HMSO, London End of part1/2 of the Animal Rights Myths FAQ