Nonhuman animals are used in laboratories for various purposes. Some examples of animal experimentation include testing products, using animals as research models and as educational tools. Within each of these categories there can also be many different purposes for which they are used. For example, science experiments some are used as tools for military or biomedical research; some, to test cosmetics and household cleaning products; and some are used in dissection classes to teach teenagers the anatomy of frogs or to do a doctoral thesis.
The number of animals used in animal experimentation is undoubtedly smaller than that of animals used in other areas such as farms or the fishing industry,1 but it is estimated that more than 100 million animals are used each year,2 which is a significant number.
The ways in which these animals can be harmed in experimental procedures, also known as vivisection,3 vary. However, in almost all procedures animals suffer significantly, and in most of them they end with the death of animals.
There is an important difference today between the consideration that is allowed to potential and actual subjects used in experiments, depending on whether they are human or nonhuman animals. Few people today would support experimentation on human beings in harmful ways and, in fact, it is indicative of this that such research is heavily restricted by law, if not outright prohibited. When experimentation on humans is allowed, it is always in a context of consenting individuals, for the personal benefits that serve as incentives. This is not the case with nonhuman animals. This is a consequence of speciesism.
This is not due to any belief that experimentation on humans cannot bring important knowledge (in fact, it seems obvious that this practice would be much more useful and relevant knowledge for humans than any experimentation on nonhuman animals). Rather, the reason for this double standard is that nonhuman animals are not taken into moral consideration, because the strong arguments against speciesism are not taken into account.
The following sections discuss the most important areas in which nonhuman animals are used in laboratories or classrooms, as well as research methods that do not use animals. Animals used for experimentationEnvironmental research
Animals are killed and made to suffer to study the impact chemicals can have on the environment. Some of the most important environmental organizations have been pushing for this practice, in many cases successfully, despite the opposition of those who defend animals. Experimentation of cosmetics and household products
While animal testing of new cosmetics and household products is illegal in places like the European Union, it is carried out in other countries, where animals are blinded, caused extreme pain, and killed. Military research
The use of animals to test new weaponry, bullets and chemical agents, as well as the effect of burns and poison for military purposes, continues to be carried out in a hidden manner. Many animals die in terrible ways as a result of this use. Biomedical experimentation
Animals of different species are harmed for various purposes in biomedical research due to the absence of implantation of non-animal methods. These animals are harmed in many ways that most ignore. Experimentation with new materials
When new materials are developed, they are often tested using methods such as cell or tissue cultures, as well as computational models. However, the materials are also routinely tested on animals that are killed later. Animals used in educationUse of animals in primary and secondary education
Dissection and the use of animals in other ways has been a common practice in several countries during primary and secondary education over many years. This means killing large numbers of animals, and educating new generations that it is acceptable to harm animals for our benefit. Use of animals in universities
In the scientific departments of many universities, research, teaching and training are carried out without using animals as laboratory tools. However, animals are still subject to all sorts of procedures elsewhere. Towards a future without damaged animals in laboratoriesResearch methods that do not use animals
Proponents of animal experimentation often claim that the only alternative to harming animals is to stop scientific progress, but this is not true. Many non-harmful methods are now available. Companies that experiment on animals
Although many companies do not experiment on sentient animals, there are others that choose to continue conducting experiments on animals because they do not want to implement new methods. Companies that do not experiment on animals
Today, many companies choose not to harm animals in product development, without affecting quality and safety in the slightest. Notes
1 Tens of billions of animals are killed in slaughterhouses each year, and billions of animals are caught and killed in fish farms. For an estimate, see Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2021) “Primary livestock”, FAOSTAT, 19 February [accessed on 24 March 2021]. See also Mood, A. & Brooke, P. (2010) “Estimating the number of fish caught in global fishing each year”, Fishcount.org.uk, July [accessed on 18 October 2020]; (2012) “Estimating the number of farmed fish killed in global aquaculture each year”, Fishcount.org.uk, July [accessed on 18 February 2021].
2 See Taylor, K.; Gordon, N.; Langley, G. & Higgins, W. (2008) “Estimates for worldwide laboratory animal use in 2005”, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 36, pp. 327-342.
3 Although the term “vivisection” literally means “to cut an animal alive,” this word has expanded its meaning in the usual language to refer to any type of invasive laboratory use of an animal. Proponents of animal experimentation prefer not to use it, due to its negative connotations, which they prefer to avoid, while opponents of it often claim that there should not be a problem in using this term given the meaning they already have in common language. The latter argue that their rejection is due to an intention to use language that is explicit to us about how animals are used in this field.