Perspective on the use of animals in research
May 9, 2013
We were just discussing the closure of the New England National Primate Research Center. One of the uncertainties about that decision of Harvard Medical School was where the approximately 2,000 animals of various species were to be placed. 2,000. Remember that now. Some of the news reporting also referred to the deaths of some of the NENPRC nonhuman primate subjects as a triggering cause for a two year attempt to improve their procedures. These deaths comprised a series of ones and twos going by the available news reporting…perhaps amounting
to a dozen or score of animals[ETA 4, see first comment]? We have no information over what timeframe those deaths occurred.
According to the LA Times, Malaysia has culled 97,000 cynomolgous macaques. Last year. The article claims they culled 88,000 of them in the previous year.
The cynomolgous macaque, btw, is a very commonly used species in research laboratories in the US. From Speaking of Research we learn that in 2010 there were about 73,317 nonhuman primates used in 2010. Of all species. This is out of an estimated 25 million vertebrate animals used in research for that year. And remember, for the longer-lived species such as dogs or nonhuman primates, the vast majority of studies use them across multi-year and even multi-decade intervals. So across time the comparison of the yearly use of, say dogs versus mice, tends to overestimate the dogs on a per-individual basis.
We are incredibly parsimonious with the approximately 1% of animals used in research that are cats, dogs or monkeys, the ones usually of greatest concern to the average person. Parsimonious with all of them, in reality. As the Speaking of Research page puts it.
Let us put the number of animals used in perspective. Scientists in the US use approximately 26 million animals in research, of which only around 1 million are not rats/mice/birds/fish. We use fewer animals in research than the number of ducks eaten per year in this country. We consume over 1800 times the number of pigs than the number used in research. We eat over 340 chickens for each animal used in a research facility, and almost 9,000 chickens for every animal used in research covered by the Animal Welfare Act. For every animal used in research, it is estimated that 14 more are killed on our roads.
Malaysia just euthanized (how we don’t know but I’m pretty sure IACUC oversight wasn’t involved) 185,000 monkeys in the past two years. Why?
Tourists and many Malaysians gather near jungle edges to watch the monkeys, snap photos of them and feed them peanuts and bananas. But the wildlife department, also known as Perhilitan, says the extensive culling was necessary to curb a “pest species” that breeds prolifically, adapts with ease, and ransacks homes for food.
“It is a hard decision, but in order to safeguard the well-being of people and to maintain a stable macaques population … it might be the best option in a short run,” the department said in an email to The Times.
185,000 culled as annoying pests over two years. A problem that may or may not have been increased by tourists. Even if the above stats reflected different individuals in each year, this is about equivalent to the total number of nonhuman primates used in US research laboratories. In fact, the number is likely to be much closer to the annual 73,317 count, given the longevity of the species. And we have no idea when Malaysia will stop culling.
In a related vein the ASPCA says that about 3-4 million companion animals (dogs and cats) are euthanized in shelters in the US annually. Annually. Why? Because nobody wants them. 64,930 dogs and 21,578 cats used in research in 2010. Versus 3-4 million. That’s 3,000,000 vs 86,508. Mere inconvenience and irresponsibility versus the advance of knowledge and creation of new medical treatment for humans and animals as well.
The inadvertent deaths of a handful
to perhaps a score of monkeys[ETA 4, see first comment] at the NENPRC led to massive shut down of research, a two year reorganization process and ultimately the demise of the Center. The center which made demonstrable advances in AIDS, drug abuse and Parkinson’s disease amongst other accomplishments.
At the very least this should give some perspective on how seriously the research enterprise and oversight system takes the humane treatment of research animals. It compares very favorably indeed with how the rest of the world (including the US) treats animals (yes, including companion species).