"I think we have to find other ways of doing experiments, other than using live animals, as soon as we can,…there is not enough incentive for abandoning animal testing. ...[T]here's a sort of implicit desire to maintain the status quo, because it's easier that way." —Jane Goodall, The Lewiston Tribune, March 9, 2007
For centuries, scientists have experimented on animals in an attempt to improve human life. However, the use of animals in research has always been problematic. Applying findings from animal experiments to the human condition has proved difficult time and again. There are also the obvious ethical concerns that arise from inflicting pain and suffering on animals. Researchers themselves have professed the need to minimize animal use, often referring to animal experiments as “a necessary evil.”
The suffering of animals in laboratories will persist as long as animal experimentation continues, even when attempts are made to minimize pain and distress. Lifelong confinement, isolation from other members of their species, constant fear and a barren existence all add up to a life of misery that no amount of pain killers can erase.
The "Three Rs" and The Removal of Inhumanity
In 1959, concerned by the "ways in which inhumanity can be ...diminished or removed" in animal experiments, British scientists William Russell and Rex Burch proposed a means by which the suffering of animals in laboratories could be reduced. Their seminal work, Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, described a concept known as the "3Rs," referring to Reducing, Refining, and Replacing the use of animals in experiments.
A half century later the 3Rs approach continues to be used. Meanwhile a boom in technology has led to an abundance of humane and effective non-animal test methods which are directly applicable to human diseases and do not suffer from the fundamental problem of interspecies differences. But instead of less animals used, the numbers continue to rise.
Clearly, the 3Rs have not kept pace with the explosion of non-animal methods. When the 3Rs were conceived 50 years ago, there was no MRI, no Internet, no computer microchips, no DNA microarrays, no mapping of the human genome – in short, no opportunity to develop the quantity and quality of technological choices we have today.
But now, in the 21st century, it is possible to conduct a vast array of experiments without using animals and achieve better results more quickly and at less cost.
Reallocation: The Fourth R
In Defense of Animals proposes that a 4th R—Reallocation—be introduced to supersede the 3Rs.
All institutions which sustain and promote scientific research are asked to implement a dedicated plan for re-directing funds and resources away from projects involving animals and apply them to non-animal methods.
IDA’s Reallocation Initiative proposes that a minimal five percent annual reallocation of funding and resources be applied toward non-animal technologies.
There are many ways that research institutions can reallocate resources towards non-animal research. See our Implementation Page for a closer examination of ways this can be achieved.
A gradual redirection of resources under a structured reallocation plan has the ability to address the current dependence on animal models without hindering current research. It offers a reasonable and prudent way to depart from over-reliance on animal experimentation while paving the way for new technologies to replace outdated methods.
Cutting-edge technology has forged new frontiers with the use of lasers, fiberoptics, microchips, genomics, proteomics, computer-based drug design, digital imaging, and other advanced non-animal methods. These methods have prompted a revolution in biomedical research and rendered reliance on animals outdated and even counterproductive.
Scientists have only just begun to tap the potential of these new technologies. Their full capabilities can never be realized while dependence on animal models persists. Reliance on animals continues, not because it is effective, but due to inertia, lack of training, vested financial interests and adherence to outdated traditions.
We are not lacking the technology to replace animals, but rather the commitment to change.
By reallocating a fraction of the resources currently devoted to animal experiments, we can begin to address the myriad problems of animal research while encouraging the growth of innovative, humane technologies. This will move science and medicine forward, enhancing human health and well-being, while sparing non-human animal life.