Nonhuman animals are used in laboratories for a number of purposes. Examples of animal experimentation include product testing, use of animals as research models and as educational tools. Within each of these categories, there are also many different purposes for which they are used. For instance, some are used as tools for military or biomedical research; some to test cosmetics and household cleaning products, and some are used in class dissection to teach teenagers the anatomy of frogs or to have a subject for a PhD dissertation.
The number of animals used in animal experimentation is certainly smaller than that of those used in others such as animal farming or the fishing industry.1 Yet it has been estimated to be well above 100 million animals who are used every year.2
The ways in which these animals can be harmed in experimental procedures, also known as vivisection,3 vary. In almost all cases they are very significant and the majority of them end with the death of the animals.
There’s an important difference today between the consideration that is afforded to the potential and actual subjects used in experiments, depending on whether they are human or nonhuman animals. Few people today would condone experimenting on human beings in harmful ways, and in fact, indicative of this, such research is strongly restricted by law, when it isn’t just prohibited outright. When experimentation on humans is permitted it is always in a context of the individuals involved consenting to it, for whatever personal benefit that serves as an incentive for them. For nonhuman animals, this is not the case.
This is not because of any belief that experimentation on humans could not bring about important knowledge (in fact, it seems obvious that this practice would uncover far more useful and relevant knowledge than any experimentation on nonhuman animals ever can). Rather, the reason for this double standard is that nonhuman animals are not morally taken into account because the strong arguments against speciesism are not considered.
In the following sections the most important areas in which nonhuman animals are used in laboratories or classrooms, as well as the research methods that don’t use them, are addressed:
Animals used for experimentation
Animals used in education
Towards a future without animals harmed in laboratories
1 Every year tens of billions are killed in slaughterhouses and trillions are fished and killed in fish factories. For estimations regarding this see: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2013) “Livestock primary”, FAO Statistical Database [accessed on 24 January 2013]; Mood, A. & B. P. (2010) “Estimating the number of fish caught in global fishing each year”, Fishcount.org.uk [accessed on 18 October 2010]; Mood, A. & Brooke, P. (2012) “Estimating the number of farmed fish killed in global aquaculture each year”, Fishcount.org.uk [accessed on 18 January 2013].
2 See Taylor, K.; Gordon, N.; Langley, G. & Higgins, W. (2008) “Estimates for worldwide laboratory animal use in 2005”, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 36, pp. 327-342 [accessed on 11 April 2013].
3 Although the term “vivisection” literally means “cutting a living animal,” this word has broadened its meaning in common language to denote any kind of laboratory invasive use of an animal. Defenders of animal experimentation prefer not to use it due to its negative connotations. Opponents of it claim that there shouldn’t be a problem with using this term given the meaning it already has in common language. They argue that its rejection is due to an intention to use language that is not explicit about how animals are used in this field.