What’s in a name? Well quite a lot it seems. Whether you came to this site looking for information about animal testing, animal research, vivisection or experimentation, the language you use defines your political and emotional views, your level of knowledge on the subject and potentially reveals your nationality.
In online searches, animal testing is the most commonly used term and is used to represent any use of animals by scientists. However animal testing actually refers to the use of animals to test a substance – a drug, cream or chemical – that will be released into the environment. The substance is tested to see if it works, how it distributes in the body and whether it is toxic. Fewer than 20 per cent of lab animals are used for this purpose and it is a legal obligation demanded by various authorities before performing human testing (clinical trials).
‘Testing’ is done by the chemical industry, the pharmaceutical industry and academics. I was surprised to learn that the pharmaceutical industry is keen to stop animal testing and is actively looking for reliable replacements that will not compromise patient safety.
Animal experimentation is a general term to describe both testing and research and has a negative connotation. The term vivisection, is also negative and mainly used in the UK. It is associated to any type of animal-related testing and research. However vivisection actually refers to the dissection of living animals; the definition includes human surgery. In previous times this was done without anesthesia.
While the proportion of animals used for testing is declining, the proportion of animals used in ‘research’ is growing.
Animal research is carried out by the biomedical community – the pharmaceutical industry and academia. In terms of research, scientists are not obliged to do studies with animals, they use animals as models to better understand diseases and find ways to influence the cause of them. Essentially they look for an animal that has a disease similar to man, either naturally occurring or one that they can recreate through genetic modification. This is not testing, where an animal is exposed to compounds, this is research and accounts for 60 – 80% of the animals are used.
We regularly hear about medical advancement for diseases like cancer, which are reported in the press –“research with mice has uncovered a cure for x disease”. Yet do we, the general public, consciously make this connection between medical breakthroughs and the use of animals?
Some argue that it doesn’t matter what you call it, as animals are still suffering for the protection of man. However I think it’s important that we understand the terminology and use it properly to ensure we know what we fighting for, or against, and how this might impact our own lives.