Pro-Animal Research Billboard Offers False Choice

As part of a national advertising campaign funded by the Foundation for Biomedical Research to get public support on the side of animal research, these billboards have been placed here in Seattle as well as other cities like LA and Portland. The FBR is a PR division of the National Association for Biomedical Research, of which the University of Washington is a member. The timing of these billboards is interesting, as it seems they were put up to rally citizens to their side in the face of the upcoming World Week for Animals in Laboratories, a week of international rallies and activities to show opposition to the institutions that confine, torture, and kill animals in the name of “science.”

This ad campaign is grossly misleading, as it presents to the public a false dichotomy, an artificial either/or scenario that suggests that animals have to die in order to save humans. Their claim that animals are integral and absolutely necessary to find cures are belied by the fact that there are many medical foundations that are working on cures for diseases without the use animals in their research. In fact, the use of animals prolongs the development of adequate procedures and treatments; animal physiology is different from that of humans’, requiring that humans models be used anyway for a treatment to be ultimately approved. Researchers get more money in grants by conducting animal testing, so there is little incentive for successful results or solid scientific design. Much of the research continues to be funded despite being redundant or inconclusive. And the animals suffer through torturous procedures, poor conditions, and poor treatment, with countless animals dying as a result, and an innumerable amount killed.

Biomedical researchers try to convince us that knowledge gained from animal studies can be extrapolated to humans yet their scientific papers reporting the results of research repeatedly include a disclaimer warning about making such an assumption. The difference in animal and human physiology means that many results of animal experiments are found to be inclusive, not applicable to human modality, or unreliable. The Food & Drug Administration recently reported that of all the drugs that tested safe and effective in animal testing, 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans. Even drugs approved by the FDA because it was deemed safe under animal research can prove fatal because not enough adequate human research was conducted; the FDA estimated that 27,785 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths between 1999 and 2003 occurred from the prescription arthritis drug Vioxx before it was recalled. How researchers can claim that animal research saves (human) lives is indicative of their own hubris and ignorance of the real consequences of their research.

Many effective non-animal methods are available, such as such as in-vitro cell and tissue cultures, micro-fluidic circuits, computer modeling, micro-dosing, the use of CAT, MRI, and PET scans, using human cadavers or organs, and clinical research. Extensive studies have to be conducted on humans regardless of the treatment or protocol anyway, so the use of animals can and should be skipped, which would allow the speedier development of treatments among human models.

The billboard also directs people to ResearchSaves.org, which offers an equally offensive command: “Against animal research? Please sign and submit this directive before you get sick or injured in order to insure you receive no medications, surgeries, treatments or disease therapies that have been tested or tried in research animals.

The logic of this imperative relies on the same simplistic reductive binary thinking. Using the same logic, we can then ask people: Against Nazis? Then you can’t drive a Volkswagen Beetle, developed by Hitler’s engineers to be the Jeep of the German army during WWII. Nor can you drive a Ford, who financed the Nazi party and helped secure its start. Nor can you drive a vehicle from General Motors, who by the mid-30s was totally committed to large-scale war production in Germany, producing trucks, tanks & armored cars. Against war and US military aggression? Then you can’t use microwaves, fly in planes that use jet engines, or use the internet, all technologies developed in the theater of war. The price of living in a modern industrialized society is that all of us, regardless of our individual beliefs, benefit from many things that came into existence from actions or institutions that we would otherwise not support. The idea, then, of directing some of us to give up the benefits of modern society without asking the same of themselves is just an example of inflated self-importance.

This is, of course, aside the fact that their claim of the treatments we have now came about because of animal research. It’s more accurate to say that we have as many treatments we have despite animal research. Human testing has always been the last line of research; animals are used initially simply because of economics. And because they are viewed as mere property, conditions to ensure their care are routinely neglected or circumvented, and less stringent oversight is given to invasive procedures. Every day, hundreds of lives are lost in service of projects that have seen no measurable progress; if cures are actually found, foundations, institutions, and researchers would loss valuable grant money. In the most cynical fashion, they sacrifice the lives of animals in pursuit of money, while telling the public that this circular game is necessary, using images of innocent children to win sentimental support.

The real answer to the question “Who would you rather see live?” is quite simple: both.

And it is possible and being proven every day among responsible researchers. Three U.S. agencies aim to end the archaic practice of animal testing, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health, realizing it is ineffective and wasteful. Non-animal-based research also is more ethical, as it doesn’t have the moral dissonance of taking one life in order to save another. One can only imagine how much further along the road to finding cures we would be if we hadn’t wasted billions of dollars, hours, and lives on animal testing that has proven unreliable or inconclusive. Animal research doesn’t save lives. It won’t save “her,” and we all know what happens to the “rat.”

Cross-posted at UWkillsAnimals.com