“An Insufferable Business: Ethics, Nonhuman Animals and Biomedical Experiments”

Image taken from Lomir Biomedical's catalogue.

Image taken from Lomir Biomedical’s catalogue, supplier of a range of equipment for animal experimentation.

Why do researchers and biomedical labs continue to use ‘animal models’ in the search for knowledge about human disease despite ethical concerns and widely-reported scientific shortcomings of much of this research? Why aren’t more researchers switching to the newer approaches and technologies which show promise (e.g. human tissue engineering, computer modelling, big data epidemiology, etc.)?

Part of the answer concerns vested economic and career interests. Individual labs and researchers have been established and trained for research using animals. That’s the science they know, and they can’t easily switch over to entirely new technologies. For them, humane alternatives present an obstacle and a threat to their careers and expertise.

But it’s not just researchers who have vested interests in continuing to experiment on animals. In “An Insufferable Business: Ethics, Nonhuman Animals and Biomedical Experiments” (pdf), sociologist Kay Peggs describes the many businesses involved in the billion dollar animal experimentation industry:

“Research establishments, scientists, regulators and persons that inspect laboratories for compliance, those associated with granting licences, companies that sell nonhuman animal subjects and that supply equipment for the research and corporations that market the resulting products are among those that benefit financially.”

As Peggs notes, companies specialize in making customized animals (like OncoMouse™), as well as all of the equipment needed to breed, transport, warehouse, feed and restrain animals at universities and other research locations. They make an array of specialized equipment from guillotines for be-heading mice and rats to “undershirts” for holding electrodes, connectors and other equipment in contact with a dog’s skin. All of these businesses stand to lose if animal experimentation is phased out in favour of ethically and scientifically superior alternatives. These businesses aren’t driven by the search for knowledge, let alone ethical considerations. Their only focus is on the bottom line — protecting the status quo and its lucrative markets for their products and services.