That’s the question the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) asks, and they’ve made it part of their mission to expose how researchers use animals in the U.K. for experimentation purposes.
With other options out there, you might expect that the number of animals subjected to experimentation would be going down year by year. What the BUAV revealed during Rabbit Awareness Week, however, is shocking and disappointing. Experimentation on rabbits in the U.K. is not dropping off. It’s increasing.
In 2013 alone, researchers conducted 15,099 experiments on 11,895 rabbits. The year before, 10,538 such tests were done. This represents a staggering 13 percent increase in rabbit testing in a single year.
These aren’t simple, painless tests, of course. They hurt, they’re frightening, and many of the rabbits don’t survive them. The ones that do have to undergo more testing. One way or the other, the poor rabbits are test subjects until their usefulness is over. Then they die.
The things that happen during these tests will turn the stomach of any animal lover. Watch this video, taken by a BUAV undercover investigator in 2012, showing what lab rabbits and other animals endure in some research facilities in the U.K.:
Do you know what “pyrogenicity” is? According to the BUAV, it’s an “archaic and controversial” test that was performed 4,166 times in 2013 on rabbits restrained in full-body “stocks.” Those rabbits were first starved for 30 hours and then placed into these stocks for up to six hours, with probes inserted into their rectums to gauge their termperatures.
Researchers injected a fever-inducing substance into a vein in their ears to test for their reaction. The effects of such testing can be cruel and devastating. According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):
The animals can suffer effects ranging from fever to breathing problems, circulatory and organ failure, and even fatal shock. Despite its long history of use, the rabbit pyrogen test has never been formally validated to establish its reliability or relevance to humans. In fact, there are a number of well-documented drawbacks to this test, including marked species and strain differences in sensitivity.
The BUAV says any need for this test “has been deleted from most regulatory requirements.” So why is it still conducted in such high numbers? Why are rabbits being tormented when the test is unneeded and unreliable? To make drug companies feel a little better about their products, perhaps? That’s no reason.
“We are appalled rabbits continue to be used,” Katy Taylor, BUAV head of science, told The Mirror. “Not only are they forced to endure unimaginable suffering, but these tests are a poor mimic of human diseases.”
Pyrogenicity is only one type of test rabbits must undergo in the U.K. and elsewhere. BUAV says researchers also conducted 439 Draize eye irritation tests on rabbits in 2013. These tests require that the eyelids be pulled apart and a substance be sprayed, dripped, or rubbed into the rabbit’s eye. Then the rabbits are observed to see what happens.
Ever get shampoo or salt in your eye? How would you feel if that happened and you were restrained and couldn’t do anything about it for hours? It would be hell. That’s what these rabbits are going through — often, if there’s no permanent damage, more than once.
The Draize skin irritation test is the same sort of thing, but on a shaved area of skin. In 2013, says the BUAV, U.K. researchers did this type of test 459 times on rabbits. That test takes a full two weeks of suffering before it’s over. The truly appalling thing is that these tests have alternatives available. The are unnecessary, and yet they continue.
Researchers in the U.K. rationalize this testing by asserting that it’s sometimes the only way to research diseases. Others say they are saving the lives of troops by using the animals to help to develop protective equipment. Can you imagine the tests they’re doing to make that happen? Surely there are better ways.
“It is unacceptable that many thousands of rabbits continue to be used in U.K. laboratories each year,” said BUAV Chief Executive Michelle Thew in a press release. “During Rabbit Awareness Week we ask that people stop and consider the plight of these sweet animals who continue to suffer and die in experiments.”
Rabbit Awareness Week has come and gone, but the sadness goes on. It’s time that these experiments on helpless animals stop. When experts agree that animal testing reactions don’t mimic human ones, and when humane alternatives exist, there is no reason to subject any animal to this type of cruelty.
Yes, we’re used to first testing on animals. We’ve been doing it a long time. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it necessary.