For the FAQ in Spanish, click here.
What does "vivisection" mean?
Vivisection, commonly used to describe all experiments on animals, is the practice of cutting into, dissecting, or operating on a live animal for scientific purposes. Animal experimentation can include administering drugs, infecting with diseases, poisoning, burning skin, causing brain damage, implanting electrodes into the brain, maiming, blinding, and other painful and invasive procedures. It can also include protocols that cause severe stress and suffering, such as long-term social isolation, prolonged full-body restraint, painful electric shocks, withholding of food, repeatedly breeding and separating infants from mothers, and other stressors that interfere with, alter or prohibit the expression of natural behaviors. Essentially, vivisection is using animals in ways that cause distress, harm, and death in attempts to test the safety of drugs and products or find a related treatment or cure for humans. The scientific validity, i.e. the ability of an animal of a different species to predict effects and results in humans, is one of the major controversies and debates in modern science.
Is NEAVS against all animal experiments?
Yes. For ethical, economic and scientific reasons, NEAVS is unequivocally opposed to all experiments on animals and works to replace them with humane and scientifically superior alternatives that are more relevant and predictive for humans.
Don’t we need to experiment on animals to find cures for diseases like AIDS and cancer?
No. In general, animals have proven to be very poor models for human disease research. Because they are genetically different from humans, studying illness in animals can give us inadequate or erroneous information. Even chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, do not accurately predict results in humans – for example unlike humans, chimpanzees infected with HIV do not become sick with symptoms of HIV or AIDS. Chimpanzee research failed to help us develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. And despite millions of animals used in cancer research, roughly 95% of cancer drugs that enter human clinical testing fail despite what the animal experiments may have led researchers to assume, and our incidences of cancer have continued to rise. According to Dr. Richard Klausner, former Director of the National Cancer Institute, "We have cured cancer in mice for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans."
What are the alternatives to animal experiments?
There are many non-animal alternatives that include:
- Non-invasive imaging technology such as MRIs and CAT scans
- Epidemiology (the study of human populations)
- Human clinical studies
- Human cell and tissue cultures
- Microdosing (in which humans are given very low quantities of a drug to test the effects on the body on the cellular level, without affecting the whole body system)
- Mathematical and computer-based databases and models
- Stem cell and genetic testing methods
- In vitro (test tube) techniques
How will we test drugs and products for safety if we don’t experiment on animals?
Relying on animal testing is already unsafe. Studies show that if you flipped a coin to guess how a human will respond to a certain drug, your prediction would actually be as accurate as if you tested the drug on a nonhuman animal. The requirement of human clinical trials for drug approval further demonstrates the uncertainty of animal experiments to predict how a drug will affect humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates certain foods, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, and other health-related products, tells us that an astonishing 92% of drugs tested "successfully" in animals fail in human trials because they don’t work or aren’t safe. Of the few drugs that receive approval for marketing, more than half are later withdrawn or relabeled for serious or lethal adverse effects not detected in animal tests.
In contrast, non-animal methods such as those listed above – including in vitro research, computerized patient-drug databases, virtual drug trials, microdosing technologies, and human cell and tissue methods including human skin models and "human-on-a-chip" technology – are superior on all fronts: they are more efficient, accurate, and cost-effective than the cruel animal experiments they replace.
Hasn’t animal experimentation led to some major medical breakthroughs?
While there have been scientific and medical advancements involving animals, it does not necessarily mean that animal research was an integral part of these breakthroughs (i.e., we must distinguish between experiments in which animals are involved, vs. experiments in which their use has been crucial). We will never know if we might have found the same treatments and cures – or even superior ones or found them sooner – if we had focused our efforts on non-animal research. Moreover, because of species differences, animal experiments cannot accurately predict how the results will apply to humans. Many animal experiments have proven inaccurate, misleading, or even dangerous to human health. Finally, it is also important to note that, even if animals have been useful historically, that doesn’t mean they still need to be used now, given the scientific advances over the last few decades and the myriad alternative human-specific technologies available to researchers. NEAVS works to replace all animal experiments with ethically and scientifically superior modern alternatives. Remaining dependent solely or even predominantly on animal experiments gives way to narrow-mindedness in scientific progress and carries the strong potential of missing other recognized paths to the effective treatment and cures needed.
If animal experiments don’t work, why do scientists continue doing them?
For decades, medical research has used animals in experiments and animal research is therefore deeply entrenched in the status quo. As long as pharmaceutical companies and others are not required to use existing alternatives, the animal model is an easy and convenient one for them to use and they have little incentive to change the way they operate. Moreover, many researchers whose training and careers are based on the old animal testing model continue to believe in it and are resistant to change, viewing any regulations or restrictions on animal testing as cumbersome and meddlesome to their research.
Companies may also be afraid to implement changes because of fear of litigation and continue to rely on traditional animal testing methods because they view them as the "easiest" route to approval. Or more simply, in many cases the animal model remains preferred not because of its scientific merit, but because even scientists succumb to inertia in the face of change and potential progress. For example with cosmetics, the FDA “has consistently advised cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.” They also specify that “Animal testing by manufacturers seeking to market new products may be used to establish product safety.” Manufacturers that select to use alternative procedures must supply documentation that justifies why the alternative is an acceptable substitute, meaning that the scientific community validates the procedure and sanctions it as such. In addition, "Failure to adequately substantiate the safety of a cosmetic product or its ingredients prior to marketing causes the product to be misbranded…" If this happens, the FDA "may take regulatory action if it has information to support that a cosmetic is adulterated or misbranded." In the end, it is easier for companies to continue relying on existing, outdated animal tests – many of which researchers developed decades ago and were never approved or validated in the first place.
Finally, animal research is a deeply profitable industry, and there is a strong economic incentive to keep it going. Researchers, breeders, suppliers, and pharmaceutical companies are making millions from animal research. Laboratories and their affiliated universities are also eager to hold on to the federal dollars they receive through lucrative animal research, housing, and maintenance grants, including the indirect costs and overhead which pad these grants and benefit the institution. Animals and the U.S. public would be much better off if our taxpayer dollars were reallocated to developing, validating, and using non-animal research methods, which are far more relevant and beneficial for humans.
Don’t laws exist to protect animals in labs?
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), enacted in 1966, is the only U.S. federal law that provides even minimal protection for animals in laboratories. However, it specifically excludes rats, mice, and birds bred for research that constitute over 90% of animals in laboratories. It also excludes cold-blooded animals (fish, reptiles, and amphibians), as well as farmed animals raised for food and fiber or used in experiments to improve animal production methods and/or the quality of agricultural products.
For the less than 10% of animals in labs covered by the AWA, the law sets specific standards for their housing, feeding, handling, and veterinary care, but does not prohibit any kind of experiment regardless of the amount of pain or distress it might cause. Instead, it requires oversight committees (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees or IACUCs), overseen by the research facility, to review and approve research protocols. IACUC’s are widely regarded as "rubber stamp" committees, composed primarily of animal researchers and others associated with the research institution, with the institution’s CEO selecting all committee members. As a result, they allow the majority of proposed experiments, regardless of the amount of suffering they inflict. If deemed "necessary" to the study, researchers may withhold even minimal protections such as pain medication. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Office of Inspector General found that many of the IACUC’s in U.S. research facilities were failing in their mandate to search for alternatives to animal experiments, review painful procedures, monitor for unnecessary duplication of research, and provide adequate veterinary care.
Routine annual inspections of all licensed facilities (those that have only animals not covered by the AWA are excluded) by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are supposed to enforce regulations set by the AWA for facility licensure. However, a mere 115 USDA inspectors are on the job to oversee more than 7,750 facilities involved in research, exhibition, breeding, or dealing of animals. This makes adequate inspection and regulation virtually impossible.
Enforcement is also lax. When the USDA finds facilities to be in non-compliance with AWA policies, they may issue penalties, but these are typically so small they are inconsequential. For example, in 2004 a 10-year-old chimpanzee named Dover died from overheating due to improper ventilation in a "stainless steel box with solid flooring, roof, rear, and sides" during transit at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. The USDA fined Yerkes a trivial $1,375 for negligence leading to Dover’s death. In 2008 maximum fines increased from $2,500 per violation to $10,000, but for facilities bringing in millions of animal research dollars these fines are simply the cost of doing business.
While the AWA and IACUC systems purport to ensure "humane" treatment of animals in laboratories, the truth is this system is plagued with loopholes that leave animals with little to no adequate protection.
Does the FDA require animal experiments?
No. The FDA only requires certain safety and efficacy tests be met in order for drugs, medical devices and other products to be approved for human or animal use. The FDA has the authority to vastly reduce the number of animal tests by making the use of existing, validated alternatives mandatory, but currently they merely allow alternatives and suggest they be considered. NEAVS’ Mandatory Alternatives Petition advocacy seeks to change this. The FDA is now developing (with MAP input) better policy guidelines that will make it clear animal tests are not required to meet FDA criteria for safety and efficacy – a partial but significant accomplishment of the MAP.
For cosmetics, personal care products, and household products many companies are already using existing data or non-animal tests such as in vitro methods to demonstrate product safety. More companies are meeting the Leaping Bunny standard each year by producing safe, high quality cosmetics and household products that are 100% cruelty-free of new animal testing.
In response to growing popularity, many companies have created their own definitions and labels for cruelty-free. These labels can be confusing and sometimes misleading for consumers. For that reason, NEAVS and other organizations founded the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) and established the Leaping Bunny, the world’s only internationally recognized cruelty-free logo. The Leaping Bunny is the only standard that guarantees a product is 100% free of new animal testing. Companies approved to use the Leaping Bunny logo not only do no animal testing themselves, but have also taken the pledge to exclude ingredients that were animal tested by other companies/distributors. The CCIC aims to eventually drive animal testing out of the industry completely.
How many animals do U.S. labs use annually?
The estimated number of animals used each year in research, testing, and education is over 25 million including dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, sheep, monkeys, chimpanzees, and many others. However, the majority of animals in labs (over 90%) are rats and mice. The AWA does not cover these species; therefore labs do not have to report how many they use. Some estimates place them in the hundreds of millions.
What is pound seizure?
Shelters that do not have "no-kill" policies may release or sell homeless dogs and cats to labs for research or testing through a practice called pound seizure. NEAVS was a founding member of coalition efforts going back to the early 1980s to ban the practice of companion animal pound seizure in Massachusetts. Our efforts led to the first and strongest pound seizure law in the country. Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have banned pound seizure.
Who pays for animal experiments?
YOU do. As a taxpayer, you support the National Institutes of Health, which in turn grants funding to research institutions. Last year research facilities received billions in taxpayer dollars for animal experiments.
What is NEAVS doing to end vivisection?
NEAVS works strategically to end vivisection on four major fronts:
- First, we initiated what is now a nationwide effort to break the species barrier in science and protect the first non-human species – chimpanzees – from research through Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.
- Second, we promote non-animal alternatives, working at the federal level to make alternatives mandatory and at the grassroots level to encourage cruelty-free consumer shopping (see our work with the Mandatory Alternatives Petition, the Leaping Bunny program, and our sister organization, the American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research).
- Third, we work to ensure a new generation of anti-vivisectionist scientists through our educational affiliate, the Ethical Science Education Coalition (ESEC), by guaranteeing all students at all levels the right to a cruelty-free science education.
- Fourth, we fight science with science providing compelling scientific evidence for why animals are unnecessary, limited or dangerous in research for human benefit and why their use can and must end.
Why should I support NEAVS and not other organizations that work to end animal testing?
NEAVS' 1895 founding in Boston was in response to the establishment of the first vivisection laboratory in the country (at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge). Here are a few ways that NEAVS is unique:
- NEAVS’ leadership includes a Board of Directors with over 30 years of combined experience in the animal protection movement and a clear focus on programs, as opposed to fundraising or public relations. Our Board includes three doctoral level professionals and an attorney. Our office has a vegan and cruelty-free product policy. We believe deeply in the anti-vivisection mission and "walk the talk."
- NEAVS is committed to accountability and to using your dollars wisely. We consistently spend 80-84% of our budget on programs, with only 5% on administration and 11% on fundraising. By using your donations wisely and keeping overhead to a minimum, we make your donations as effective as they can be. We also have a strict conflict of interest policy to ensure that the only people on the NEAVS payroll are staff hired on their own merit and serving a vital function.
- NEAVS initiates campaigns based on our overarching, four-point strategy for getting all animals out of labs. While it might be satisfying to jump on the latest bandwagon or press opportunity, we focus our resources on strategic and pertinent campaigns that drive positive results for all animals in labs. This requires a major commitment of time and volumes of detailed work, thought, and resources. Whether it takes months or years, once we commit to a campaign, we see it through to its completion. We encourage all donors and prospective donors to carefully research the programmatic campaigns of any organization they are considering supporting. An informed donor should always ask and demand to know, "What are this organization’s campaigns? How much funding do they dedicate to them? How effective are they for animals at large?" If you ask any of these questions of NEAVS, you will receive resounding, in-depth, and affirmative answers.
How can I help end vivisection?
- Shop cruelty-free. Get our free Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide and download the Cruelty-Free App for iPhone and Android to make sure the household, cleaning, and personal care products you buy are not animal tested. Write to companies that still test on animals and let them know you won't buy their products until they stop.
- Make sure your charitable contributions are not going to wasteful animal experimentation. Support only those medical charities that do not fund animal research, and let your alma mater college or university know you will not support them if they conduct animal research. To research charities, visit PCRM’s Humane Charity Seal of Approval site.
- Become an organ donor. Say yes to organ and tissue donation on your driver's license and let your family know of your wishes. Organ donation can save human and animal lives. Researchers use animals in xenotransplantation experiments, in part to fill the shortage for human organs.
- Consider donating your body to science. Autopsy is an underutilized method that yields important information about disease processes, life-ending injuries and other medical questions.
- Explore a vegetarian or vegan diet. Help end the agricultural research used to exploit farmed animals into higher profit meat, eggs, and milk. Health experts indicate that a plant-based diet can help prevent many diseases. Preventative health is one of the best ways to ensure that fewer animals suffer and die in labs.
- Educate yourself and others about vivisection.
- Write letters to the editor of your local paper explaining how vivisection impedes progress on human health problems and is cruel to animals.
- Sign up for our Action Alerts to learn what you can do to help locally, nationally, and globally.
- Become a NEAVS supporter and help us abolish vivisection.
- If you live in the Boston area or have access to a computer anywhere, volunteer for NEAVS.