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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
ANIMAL RIGHTS MYTHS FAQ v1.2
3 WHERE TO GET RELIABLE INFORMATION ABOUT BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH
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
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 email@example.com.
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.
2 March 1997
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
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
1. Jick H (1974) Drugs - Remarkably Nontoxic New Eng. J. Med. vol
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:
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
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
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
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
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.:
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
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
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
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
1. Animal (Scientific Procedures ) Act, 1986
2. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (1995)
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)
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
"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
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
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
Animals are only used in research where no other method is
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
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%
1. Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (1995)
End of part1/2 of the Animal Rights Myths FAQ