Each year in Canada, millions of animals live and die in labs for the purpose of developing new medicines and products, testing toxins and cosmetics, or finding new discoveries about life processes. Some animals are brought into classrooms, while others are studied in the wild, in an attempt to improve our understanding of the natural world.
The BC SPCA recognizes that live animals and their bodies or tissues are used for scientific purposes that aim to improve the lives of both people and other animals. Nonetheless, the BC SPCA envisions a society in which the direct use of animals is not necessary for advancements in scientific research, testing or education. See the BC SPCA Position Statements on Animals in Science, Research, Testing and Teaching. The BC SPCA also works closely with the national advocacy organization Animals in Society Policy Institute to promote alternatives to animal use.
When animals are used for science, any use must always be assessed in keeping with the Three Rs Principles: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Meaning that all alternatives should be considered, numbers of animals used reduced to a minimum, and procedures are continually evaulated and modified to be the most efficient, effective and responsible. The animals’ welfare must also be a priority throughout all life stages, including their breeding, raising and death.
The BC SPCA is opposed to any procedure when using animals in science that causes pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. Further, the BC SPCA does not see a need for using live animals or their parts in teaching, unless part of a specialized post-secondary animal care program (such as veterinary sciences, animal health technology, animal welfare, etc.) as there are alternatives that equally meet or exceed learning outcomes.
The current Canadian organization providing oversight for the use of animals in government-funded research, teaching and testing is the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). Participation in CCAC programs is required for institutions receiving public funding in Canada. Private research institutions may opt into CCAC participation, however, other private animal-based research, teaching or testing is conducted without CCAC involvement. The BC SPCA encourages all private institutions to become participants in the CCAC oversight program.
How many animals are used by CCAC institutions annually?
Over 3.7 million animals are used under protocols by CCAC member institutions annually (latest CCAC statistics from 2014), representing an increase of 24 per cent. However, these numbers do not include animals not under protocols (such as breeding animals, animal tissues or bodies purchased for dissection from external sources) or animals used by non-CCAC members, such as private research companies in Canada.
How are animals used in testing? Food items, medical equipment, pharmaceutical products (medicines, vaccines, etc.), chemicals, radiation emitting devices, cosmetics and pesticides are legally required to meet the safety obligations set out by Health Canada. Such efficacy and safety testing often involves the use of animals. However, given the past years of testing and the large body of research available on non-essential substances like cosmetics, household cleaning products, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages, there is no need to continue such practices. The BC SPCA applauds the ban on cosmetic testing in the European Union and India, and encourages the ban of such testing in Canada.
How are animals used in research? The development of new human and animal medicines, field studies of wildlife, and basic studies to understand life processes are all examples of research. Animal welfare should always be a primary consideration in any research protocol, with diligent program oversight and adherence to the Three Rs. The benefits of any research using animals should far outweigh the harms.
How are animals used in teaching and what are the alternatives? Live animals are frequently used in non-invasive behavioural studies or observations, or more invasive studies such as physiology lessons or medical training procedures. Dissections of deceased animals or their tissues are also a common educational use. The animals are sourced from the food production system or as fisheries by-catch; provided by animal owners with their permission; or bred specifically for this purpose. With advancing technology however, there are many sophisticated alternatives to using animals in teaching that should replace the majority of educational animal use.
In 2015, the BC SPCA funded a project to identify non-animal alternatives in undergraduate teaching at UBC. This then led to the creation of a new national non-profit organization dedicated to using an evidence-based approach to promote alternatives to animals in research, testing and teaching - the Animals in Society Policy Institute.