Animal Testing in the U.S. [Interactive Map]
In the U.S. we love our pets. They are part of the family, so it’s tough to consider the possibility of the family dog or cat being used for testing in laboratories.
However, the practice is more common than we would like to believe, and has been going on for decades. According to the USDA, more than 1,000,000 dogs, cats, monkeys and other warm-blooded animals are used for testing each year in the United States alone.
Which states test on animals the most?
Click the play button below to animate the map. Hover over any state to see specific animal testing data for the state. Hovering over any state will stop the animation. You can also select specific animals by clicking the dropdown menu on the top right.
When the word, “testing,” is mentioned, it refers to a wide variety of for what the animals are used. According to AnimalResearch.Info, cats share many cellular functions with humans, so they are used to study sensory systems and neuroscience, as well as potential cancer and HIV treatments. Dogs are used for heart research and safety testing of new medicines. Guinea pigs are still used in the study of nervous, respiratory and immune systems.
And not all tests are created equal.
Many facilities perform painful experiments on animals without giving them any pain medication. Researchers claim that administering pain medication in these cases would defeat the purpose of the experiments and that the ends always justify the means.
Interestingly, Hamsters and Guineas make up 60,427 of 72,311 these test subjects.
The means of testing for these experiments is often where the controversy lies. For cats, such cruelties as drilling holes in their head or cutting off their ears have been reported, and for dogs, the fear and cold environments in which they are sometimes kept is a harsh reality. Since the creation of the Animal Welfare Act(AWA) in 1966, legislation has been in place to regulate the practice, but many still find it to be inhumane and without benefit, even 50 years after its enactment.
How Does the Animal Welfare Act Protect Animals?
Image Source: USDA, via Wikimedia Commons
The AWA was enacted because of a growing concern over the welfare of animals, as many of those used in testing were stolen. Originally the Act only governed the proper attainment of animals by research facilities, that said facilities be licensed and insured, and that their license be suspended if they were found in violation of the Act. It also put into law that dealers selling animals for the express purpose of research be subject to a five day waiting period between acquisition and selling of the animal, as well as provide records of the animal. This helped ensure the animals being sold had not been stolen. These changes had been long overdue, but as time went on it had become apparent that more legislation was needed. There have been seven amendments to the original AWA, and a few of them have been crucial in ensuring that animals are protected and treated as humanely as possible.
In 1970, measures taken to prevent the sale of stolen animals was expanded to cover transportation, housing and the general humane treatment of those used in testing. In 1985, it was amended under the Food Security Act and further clarified what is meant by “humane care.” It also increased penalties for violation of the Act, noting that the Secretary of Agriculture should inspect each animal research facility at least once a year, and expanded the minimum requirements for the transportation, handling and care of animals. Finally, the Animal Fighting Enforcement Act was added as a subsection to the AWA in 2007, and put into law the illegality and penalties of such practices.
California was the first to enact state law in correspondence to federal law. The state limits product testing on animals when alternative means of non-animal testing are available, and they enacted a “right to choose” statute, which stipulates that students can refuse to participate in activities that harm animals, including dissection. California is one of only 16 states to have such a policy, and one of only three to have the law regarding alternative means. The state even called on Congress to ban cosmetics testing on animals two years ago.
Loopholes in the Law
Despite all of the aforementioned regulations, it’s readily apparent that there aren’t anywhere near enough resources to enforce these laws.
Image credit: Alex Pacheco of PETA (PETA) CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Act itself is enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and they only have 115 inspectors to cover the 7,750 active facilities across the country. The infrequency of the testing, and the speed at which it must be done, can lead to ineffective enforcement. Even when a violation is found, the law stipulates that the USDA give facility operators time to correct their flaws, which sometimes leads to the same violations being found at the same facilities months later upon re-inspection.
Another problem is the definition of an animal under the law. Cold-blooded animals as well as mice, rats and birds are all excluded from protection by the AWA. In fact, a 2009 survey by researchers found that mice and rats who underwent painful, invasive procedures, such as skull and spinal surgeries and burn experiments, were provided with post-procedural pain relief only about 20 percent of the time. While the USDA is in the process of getting these animals some form of coverage, nothing is in place just yet. And while the law covers research facilities, federal facilities such as the Centers for Disease Control don’t have to register or even be inspected by the USDA.
State-by-State Testing Discrepancies
While California actually tests on more animals than any other state in terms of total number, the state has the most compassionate animal protection laws, according to the Humane Society. In fact, California is one of only three states – along with New Jersey and New York – that has legislation:
- Granting students the right to alternatives to animal dissection in schools
- Prohibiting research facilities from obtaining pets from animal shelters
- Prohibiting the use of animals in product testing when an approved alternative exists
There are other interesting differences as well. For example, Wisconsin is at the top of the list of states that use the most dogs in testing, but near the bottom of the list of states that use the most cats. One reason for this could be the trouble UW-Madison got into recently. While their intentions may have been noble (the research being done was intended to improve cochlear implants) their practices bordered on appalling. Cats in the lab were killed and dissected after having metal restraint posts screwed into holes drilled in their skulls, electrodes put in their brains and steel coils implanted in their eyes.
Section 2143 of the AWA goes into great detail about how researchers should treat the animals, but the language is still rather ambiguous. It mainly says that pain should be minimized during experiments, although painkillers are not required by law no matter the type of research being conducted. The AWA allows test animals to be shocked, poisoned, burned, starved, forcibly restrained, addicted to drugs, and brain-damaged – among many other things. No experiment, no matter how painful or trivial, is prohibited.
The aforementioned practice of testing “with pain, no drugs” – when animals are not given medication for any pain they experience during testing – is appalling, but perfectly legal. Vivisection – or operations on living animals – has great psychological and physical effects on the animals being used as test subjects. One undercover investigation revealed monkeys mutilating themselves and ripping out their own hair due to “stress-induced psychosis.” The day in and day out stress put on animals, even in minimally invasive experiments, is sometimes too much to handle.
How Can Animal Testing Impact Human Safety?
How effective is animal testing in ensuring that the drugs and products are safe for human use? This is a key point of contention between researchers and those against the use of animals in testing. The answer is somewhat muddled, but clearly, what works on animals doesn’t necessarily work on humans. This can be very dangerous for a couple of reasons.
Time and time again, therapies and medicines that have proven to be safe and effective in animals have often been found to be unsafe and ineffective in humans.
The FDA reports that 92 percent of drugs approved for testing in humans fail to receive approval for human use and more than half of those drugs approved are later withdrawn or relabeled due to serious or lethal adverse effects in humans. The arthritis drug Vioxx is perhaps the most notable example. After appearing to be safe in animal studies, but was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after causing over 60,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. *one study potentially links over 500,000 deaths to Vioxx
According to neurologist and public health specialist Dr. Aysha Akhtar, volunteers of clinical trials are exposed to an especially high risk.
“If you were volunteering for a clinical trial, there is more than 90 percent chance that the drug that tested safe and effective in animals will be ineffective or unsafe in you.”
The opposite of this situation has the potential to be equally harmful. Out of thousands of potential drugs tested, very few make it to clinical trials (about 5 out of 5,000-10,000). Many don’t pass the animal tests because of species-specific results. Yet, it can be argued that many of these agents could have been effective and perfectly safe in humans. Could we be passing on a potential cure to a debilitating disease because it didn’t work on a mouse?
Unintentional gender bias in animal testing may also have a significant impact on drug safety for both men and woman. For example, 80 percent of drug studies that use mice for testing use only male mice. This could lead to approval for a drug that is not be very safe for women – whom already report adverse side effects from drugs far more often than men.
Sometimes, testing on male and females mice are equal, but results are not reported separately based on gender, which can lead to inaccurate determinations in the readiness of a drug for human use. In other cases, male animals are excluded from studies because they fight with each other, complicating results, and because the males sometimes have to be caged separately, which can drive up costs in cash-strapped labs.
Each of these scenarios could lead to different health outcomes, but the end result is likely a drug that is unsafe for, at least, one sex in humans.
Despite these cold truths, there are arguments made in favor of testing on animals. Some interesting discoveries have been made thanks to experiments with animals:
- Dogs can be thanked for many modern discoveries: insulin, which earned Frederick Banting the Nobel Prize in 1922. The rabies vaccine, invented by Louis Pasteur, and the invention of the defibrillator are also attributed to experiments with dogs.
- Chimpanzees share 99% of their DNA with humans, and mice are 98% similar. Many researchers say animal testing is crucial because of this.
- Advances in treatment for leukemia, breast cancer and the AIDS virus have been made largely because of testing on cats, as the development of these illnesses in felines are very similar to humans.
- The rabbit simulates the response of human tissue to laser surgery closely. So advances here, particularly with eye surgery, have come largely in part to rabbits.
- Some argue that it is all about the human mindset. People in the U.S. eat 9 billion chickens per year, which figures out to 340 times the amount used for research annually worldwide.
- Not surprisingly, guinea pigs have been used to pave the way for advances in many areas of modern medicine. For example, their airways are sensitive to allergens, so they have been used extensively in asthma studies. While their overall use has declined in recent years (they represented one percent of total animal research in the UK in 2012) they continue to help with the development of vaccines for numerous diseases.
Of course, there are many arguments to be made against animal testing, namely the means by which these discoveries were made. It is likely that some animals experienced quite a bit of pain in the effort to advance medical science. There are many more to be made:
- The procedures for these experiments, such as burning of the skin, maiming or blinding, are extremely invasive, and cause severe harm to the animals.
- Lab conditions can be horrible for the animals. Cramped spaces, loud noises and lack of encouragement are just some of the things cited as problematic in animal testing.
- There are many alternative testing measures now in existence that make animal testing obsolete. In vitro (in glass) testing, microdosing on humans, and computer models make up just a few of the ways medical science can avoid testing on animals.
- Drugs that perform well on animals don’t necessarily have the same effect on humans.
- The cost of animal testing is far greater than the alternative methods, and therefore should not be considered financially feasible.
- A famous quote by 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham in regards to animal rights states, “The question is not can they reason, nor can they talk? But can they suffer?” The answer is yes, and is cause for many to reject all animal testing.
What You Can Do
If you want how scientists test on animals to change or for the practice to be eradicated completely, the best thing to do would be to contact your local representative. Making your voice heard can go a long way towards enacting change, and there is a lot of pending legislation that could help these animals. Other ways you can help are to avoid using products from companies that test on animals, donate to organizations who rescue animals used in experiments, or do something as simple as pay attention. All animal rights groups agree; if you care about the welfare of these animals used in testing, the worst thing you can do is nothing.