Letter: Financial well-being of universities supported by long tradition of animal testing

To the editor:

I am writing in response to Hellena Pol’s letter: Animals Need Human Protection By Way Of Spay And Neuter Programs in the Friday, March 11 edition of the Capital News, and to the article published in the same issue: Animal Testing Facility Incites Heated Debate.

People might wonder why I’m responding to these issues in the same letter. I am doing so because there is a definite link between animal testing and pet overpopulation.

There is a very sinister reality that awaits some of the dogs and cats who, through neglect or abandonment, end up in one of Canada’s animal shelters or city pounds. In Canada, pound seizure is totally legal. This means that pets can legally be removed from shelters to be used in vivisection labs. Preference is given, too, for the friendlier, gentle animals as they will be easier to work with.

According to the 2009 statistics from the Canadian Council on Animal Care, of the 4,730 cats used in animal experimentation, 3,869 or 82 per cent of them are random sourced. This is the term used for animals obtained from shelters, etc. In the same year, 11,225 dogs were tested and 6,853, or 61 per cent, were random sourced.

Most people would not be aware of the fact that animal testing is not limited to those conducted for medical, cosmetic or cleaning products.

Does the average Canadian know more than 250 million animals are killed in Canada’s vivisection labs every year. If animal experimentation is of such questionable value, why does it persist?

There are several likely explanations:

Vivisection is easily published. In the “publish or perish” world of academic science, it requires little originality or insight to take an already well-defined animal model, change a variable (or the species being used), and obtain “new” and “interesting” findings within a short period of time. In contrast, clinical research (while much more useful) is often more difficult and time-consuming.

Also, the many species available and the nearly infinite possible manipulations offer researchers the opportunity to “prove” almost any theory that serves their economic, professional, or political needs. For example, researchers have “proven” in animals that cigarettes both do and do not cause cancer—depending on the funding source.

Vivisection is self-perpetuating. Scientists’ salaries and professional status are often tied to grants, and a critical element of success in grant applications is proof of prior experience and expertise. Researchers trained in animal research techniques find it difficult or inconvenient to adopt new methods, such as tissue cultures.

Vivisection appears more “scientific” than clinical research. Researchers often assert that laboratory experiments are “controlled,” because they can change one variable at a time.

The control, however, is illusory. Any animal model differs in myriad ways from human physiology and pathology. In addition, the laboratory setting itself creates confounding variables; for example, stress and undesired or unrecognized pathology in the animals. Such variables can have system-wide effects, skew experimental results and undermine extrapolation of findings to humans.

Vivisection is lucrative. Its traditionally respected place in modern medicine results in secure financial support, which is often an integral component of a university’s budget.

Many medical centers receive tens of millions of dollars annually in direct grants for animal research, and tens of millions more for overhead costs that are supposedly related to that research. Since these medical centers depend on this overhead for much of their administrative costs, construction, and building maintenance, they perpetuate vivisection by praising it in the media and to legislators.

I appreciate the work and persistence of Lindsay Diehl and professor Jodey Castricano in bringing this issue to the public domain.

Jan Dawson,

Kelowna