Developing a more compassionate cure

As universities are expanding their programs of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex also exemplifies a venue where business can fuse with research in health and sciences.

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks- The Brock Press

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks- The Brock Press

Brock University describes the research complex as a place where world-class research on cancer, infectious diseases, biotechnology and green chemistry can happen. With federal and provincial funding that has totalled $71.5 million, there is no doubt that the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) tend to bring in more resources, including research grants, long after the infrastructure is built.

As budget cuts are expected to occur for specific programs at Brock, elevating the institution from its deficit of almost seven million dollars, programs that are more business-related are seen as an asset. Those more critically inclined, and therefore less likely to buy into a purely market driven educational model are isolated or have their program spending reduced or cut all together.

Thinking about the hard sciences expanding means many possibilities for Brock becoming a large institution devoted to research.

While research programs grow, it is important to note that not just human lives are involved in the repeated testing of research experiments. The lives of animals involved in research are all too often forgotten.

Getting into the territory of speaking about animals is difficult when discussing noble research like curing cancer or diseases, but the reality of animal research should be understood.

 Animal testing in Canada

The Canadian Council for Animal Care (CCAC) is the autonomous and independent body that oversees the use of animals in science across Canada. The CCAC acts as a quasi-regulatory body and sets standards (guidelines, documents and policy statements) on animal care.

The CCAC’s most recent report from 2009 states that 3,375,027 animals were used in animal testing throughout Canada. In 2008, 2,272,815 animals were reported to be used in testing, and in 2007, 2,054,909, showing that animal use is increasing.

Animals included in testing across Canada include amphibians, cats, cephalopods, chinchillas, dogs, domestic birds, farm animals, fish, marine mammals, rodents, nonhuman primates, rabbits and other species.

The CCAC also reports animal use broken down into four sections – Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Provinces and Western Provinces. Animal use in science specific to Ontario reports that 1,827,701 animals were used in 2009.

Animal research is further categorized by level of invasiveness. Categories of invasiveness include experiments which cause little or no discomfort or stress, experiments which cause minor stress or pain of short duration, experiments which cause moderate to severe distress or discomfort and experiments which cause severe pain near, at or above the pain tolerance threshold of unanesthetized conscious animals.

The CCAC also categorizes research into areas of purpose. The purposes of animal use the CCAC condones is breeding colony/stock, where animals are held in breeding colonies that have not been assigned to a particular research, teaching or testing protocol. Other purposes include studies that are of a fundamental nature in sciences relating to essential structures or functions (biology, psychology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology, etc), studies for medical purposes, including veterinary medicine that relate to human or animal disease or disorders are also acceptable, studies for regulatory testing of products for the protection of humans, animals or the environment, the development of products or appliances for human or veterinary medicine and finally education and training of individuals in post-secondary institutions.

 How transparent should animal testing be?

In the United States, the regulatory body of the U.S Department of Agriculture requires that research institutions put their inspections online so the public can review what is going on.

The CCAC’s policy is that individual university institutions are not required to disclose specific information related to the number of animals used for testing and research.

Activists from STOP UBC Animal Research have been able to pressure the University of British Columbia (UBC) to release the total number of animals, the major species and degree of invasiveness, causing UBC to become first Canadian university to do so. A letter from over 60 animal rights and social justice groups across North America and Europe asked UBC to fully disclose the information, as well as the stats over the last 10 years to determine if the amount of animals being used has increased or decreased.

Should Brock be required to publish similar reports?

Transparency seemed to be an issue at UBC. One of the justifications for disclosing the specifics of animal testing is that UBC received $550 million in the 2009-2010 academic year for research, and nearly $400 million of that came from the government – although the money received does not all support animal testing.

CCAC Executive Director Clement Gauthier said 89 per cent of CCAC’s funding comes through government grants from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). These funding bodies are also funding much of the research that uses animals.

At Brock University, over two million in grants from NSERC was awarded over the 2010-2011 school year.

Regulating animal testing

David Szytbel, Canadian philosopher on animal ethics, critiques the CCAC, attempting to shed light on the issue.

“The ethics code itself claims that burning, freezing, fracturing, staging predatory-prey encounters, electrical shocking, inducing of extremely high or low temperatures and striking or beating unanaesthetized animals – among other things specified – is permissible, so long as an external review is obtained. However, that review will be carried out by other animal researchers or research interests. Indeed, the scientists have been trained to regard the animals in a desensitized manner, as “experimental models,” writes Szytbel.

“The CCAC is a voluntary set of guidelines, not law. Some public grants may depend on CCAC approval of facilities. Ultimately, the guidelines project a cloak of legitimacy and do not significantly hamper animal researchers’ ambitions of designing experiments that are harmful to animals.”

Robert McMillan, researcher, writes in The conflict over animal experimentation in Vancouver that public discourse in the 1970s facilitated the lobbying of Canadian legislation to regulate animal experimentation. Groups like the Council for Laboratory Animals which most likely played a role in the construction of the CCAC. Although the CCAC may have restructured institutions like UBC’s animal care, it was still condemned by scientists for empire-building and criticised for both its secrecy and readiness to compromise the interests of animals.

Brock University adheres to the CCAC tenet that “The use of animals in research and teaching is acceptable only if it promises to contribute to understanding of fundamental principles, or to the development of knowledge that can reasonably be expected to benefit humans or animals. Animals should be used only if the researcher’s or instructor’s best efforts to find an alternative have failed.”

“A continuing sharing of knowledge, review of the literature, and adherence to the Russell-Burch “3R” tenets of “Replacement, Reduction and Refinement” are also requisites. Those using animals should employ the most humane methods on the minimum number of appropriate animals necessary to obtain valid information”.

In a statement from Brock on the use of animals, Brock’s media relations states that “Animals are used for research and teaching at Brock University only as a last resort when other options are not possible – i.e. other research, computer models and simulations, use of cell culture, etc.”

“When researchers must work with animals they work with them in the most humane and ethical manner possible. Brock’s Animal Care and Use Committee reviews applications and develops animal care policy for research programs at the institution.

“The University strives to achieve the highest standards of animal care.”

Animal welfare/ Animal liberation

While there is no denying that animal testing is being conducted in the name of science, it is often minimized and normalized.

The two main discourses that justify the use of animal testing are through utilitarianism and animal welfare.

Utilitarianism means maximizing happiness and reducing suffering; applying this to animal use means humans have decide whose happiness and suffering is determined.  In utilitarianism, the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome. In the case of animal testing, the potential to cure cancer overrides the suffering of animals used to achieve the outcome.

“If I am going to do the following thing to a monkey, or to a cat or to a mouse, what do you think?’ – the natural response would be that sounds like something that’s not very nice to do to that animal. If you say I’m going to develop a new treatment for this disease which is affecting you, your relative, your friend, there would be a different answer,” said Jim Pfaus, a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal to The Ubyssey.

Animal welfare follows the same logic. If animals are to be used for food, science, entertainment, etc., then humans have a moral responsibility to increase the psychological and physical well-being of animals.

Animal welfare is dominantly seen as the better outcome that seeks to minimize suffering.  Some people also argue that the concern for animal welfare is signs of incremental steps towards animals gaining rights.

Others believe animal welfare defends the use of animals for human gain. Groups such as Brock Students for Animal Liberation (BSAL) advocate for the end to all animal exploitation, including animal testing, which they label vivisection.

“Our principle goals are to educate the greater student-body about the various industries that exploit animals for profit, as well as engage in direct action initiatives around animal vivisection at Brock University,” BSAL’s mandate states.

“Animal welfare as a reformist measure doesn’t take issue with the ‘use’ of animals but rather ‘how’ they are treated. BSAL believes animals are not property and that advocating for animal welfare falls short in protecting animals from not being exploited,” said Elizabeth Smith, Critical Sociology student at Brock and organizer with BSAL.

 Scientific alternatives

As well as the ethical responses to animal testing, there are also alternative perspectives that understand the science behind animal testing differently.

Commissioner Mike Leavitt in the 2006 U.S Food and Drug Administration report says that “nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.”

Ninety-five percent of medical schools across the U.S have completely replaced the use of animal laboratories in medical training with human-patient simulators, virtual-reality systems, computer simulators and supervised clinical experience.

Culturally, the move towards animal-free research does look promising, but still has a long way to go. In the European Union (EU), about 12 million animals a year are used for research, with about 0.02 percent of those being used in cosmetic research. In 2004, the EU passed a ban on testing cosmetic products on animals. It also set a series of deadlines for eliminating the testing of cosmetic ingredients and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.

Irmela Ruhdel, a specialist on animal experimentation at the German Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty says that the cosmetics industry could be the driving force for the development of new alternative methods.

If experiments on animals begin to become nonessential to reliable research, then this may prevent alternatives to become widely adopted.

“If animal experimentation were stopped, we are told, so too would human medical progress. How else could we learn about the nature of human diseases, find new cures and vaccines, perfect new medical technologies? This is the argument that is repeated, again and again, by the animal experimenters,” writes Dr. Jane Goodall in the foreword to Dr. Ray Greek’s book Sacred Cows and Golden Geese.

“I have a growing conviction that many animal data are not only obtained unethically, at huge cost in animal suffering, but are also unscientific, misleading, wasteful (in terms of dollars and effort) and may be actually harmful to humans. I constantly read through journals on alternatives to animal experimentation in my quest for good, solid, scientific facts to substantiate this conviction.”

From in vitro, genomic and computer-modeling techniques, there is a growing body of knowledge that does not rely on the use of animals.

If the CCAC’s mandate is to reduce the amount of animals used, is this enough?

It is an unfortunate irony that as humans we have spent billions of dollars and lives on the notion that animals are like us, in order to extrapolate results for our own gain. If they are so much like us, why are animals not awarded the same considerations as humans have? Can we still continue to justify animal testing?

If you would like to get involved in the campaign against animal testing at Brock University, check out Brock Students for Animal Liberation (BSAL) – Monthly BSAL meetings take place the first Friday of every month from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. in the SJC Collabratorium in Thistle Hallway. On Oct. 30 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. BSAL will be hosting a demonstration in front of the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex against animal testing.

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