After decades of hard fought battles over animal testing, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it was ending the use of chimps in nearly all its government medical research. 310 chimpanzees, locked away in laboratory cages for nearly all of their lives, will now be retired.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine declared that there was almost zero justification for using chimps for invasive medical research.
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins stated new scientific methods and technologies have rendered the use of chimps in research largely unnecessary.
The NIH research facilities admits it will be retaining (but not breeding) 50 chimps for crucial medical studies that can’t be performed in any other way. Although the retired chimps may not be subjected to testing, the conditions reportedly will be anything but comfortable.
Thanks to modern research techniques and the support of the public, the tide is beginning to turn.
Other animal testing does continue, however.
In April, 2012, a bill banning pound seizure in Minnesota was signed into law by Governor Dayton.
Pound seizure referred to the practice of obtaining lost or stray pets from animal shelters for use in research, testing, and education. While previously a widespread practice, until recently only Minnesota, Oklahoma and Ohio still had a pound seizure law.
Why is pound seizure no longer necessary to advance the work of science and education?
Prior to 1949, there was no law that governed the sale and purchase of animals used for research. The sale of stolen pets to research institutions was a profitable business. It was widely thought that by allowing research and educational institutions to legally acquire unclaimed animals from publicly- funded pounds, the crime of ‘dog napping’ would end.
Banning pound seizure, however, did not bring an end to research on animals in Minnesota.
Dogs have a long history of living with humans. Their innate characteristics, as well as the long tradition of domestication, make them ideal for research. The regulations governing exercise and social interaction is mostly left up to the individual research teams.
In research, Beagles have become the breed of choice, due to their useful size and docile temperament. Larger dogs, such as Labradors are often used for orthopedic research.
Euthanasia of dogs or other animals can be stressful for the personnel performing the procedure. The degree of distress by people observing or performing euthanasia depends on their views on the use of animals in research. Stress can be expressed as absenteeism, belligerence, careless and callous handling of animals, and high turnover rate.
To prepare dogs for their work in a laboratory, they need to be able to socialize with their own species and with people. Laboratory dogs need to be able to adapt to change as they may move between different establishments and encounter a wide variety of challenging environments and interactions. Dogs need to be trained to specific procedural work and to differentiate between work and play. Dogs are also used for surgical research and practice and for drug testing.
Purpose-bred dogs, as other animals, are bred specifically for research and are raised in a closed colony.
The argument over whether or not to use dogs for research is part of the larger issue of animals in society and our range of attitudes towards them. Greyhound dogs used in racing points out an example of the spectrum, with people viewing a greyhound as either a commodity, a financial tool, or a household companion. Supporters of using retired greyhounds as research subjects say these dogs have a known history and are well used to living in caged quarters. Unlike pet dogs, when their usefulness is over, they are euthanized.
Medical breakthroughs have given us the first "test tube beef". The first burger made from cells grown in a Petri dish were recently taste tested by a group of scientific taste testers. The cost for this burger - over $250,000.
Much testing is done where the results are already proven. Testing is repetitious and continued, with those known results, because of taxpayer dollars, our dollars, which fund these programs. With all the capabilities of modern technology, is it necessary to use animals for testing and research?
Why must we continue to place animals in this position? Perhaps we do, because we can.