Unveiling the Hidden Realities of Animal Research: A Call for Transparency and Change

Beagle In Cage NAVS Photo Crop

Shining a Light on the Unseen

In the corridors of scientific progress, a silent toll is exacted every day – one paid in the lives and suffering of countless animals. Behind closed doors, laboratories conduct experiments that shape our impressions of medicine, cosmetics, and more. Yet, the true extent of this practice remains largely concealed from public view, shrouded in secrecy and obscured by layers of bureaucracy. This is the landscape that the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) finds itself fighting against, aiming to shed light on the status quo.

The Critical Role of APHIS Numbers

In order for NAVS to do its best work, it must have reliable and timely data on how many animals are used in research, where they’re used, and how they are used. These figures are not just idle statistics; they represent the lives of animals subjected to experimentation and the ethical questions that surround their use. However, only limited data on animal use are provided annually by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), for two years prior to the current year (the 2022 numbers were recently published).  NAVS diligently tracks and analyzes these figures, providing insights into trends, shifts, and areas of concern within the realm of animal research. But a full reckoning of animal experimentation is blocked by the research community’s refusal to open its books and disclose the real facts of what goes on inside its laboratories.

The Dogs We Know and Love: Untold Stories of Testing

For many of us, dogs are not just pets; they’re cherished members of our families. Yet, behind the veneer of domesticity lies a stark reality – many of these beloved companions are also subjects of experimentation. Despite societal aversion to the testing of dogs and cats, NAVS’ analysis of recent APHIS data reveals a troubling trend: an increase in dog experimentation, particularly in experiments involving pain and distress without relief. Overall, the recent data released for 2022 revealed that 48,510 dogs were used and held for research. Disturbingly, between the 2021 and 2022 data, dogs used in painful experiments grew by 20.3 percent. This surge flies in the face of legislative efforts aimed at curbing such practices, highlighting the urgent need for greater transparency and accountability in animal research.

Non-Human Primates: A Looming Crisis

As the spotlight shines on dogs, another group of animals remains largely unseen: non-human primates (NHPs). While not yet reflected in the recent APHIS data, indicators suggest a looming crisis in NHP experimentation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has called for increased breeding of primates, and the ban on chimpanzee research has only shifted focus to other primate species. With numbers surpassing the populations of entire cities (113,201 NHPs held and used for research purposes in 2022), the scale of NHP experimentation underscores the ethical dilemma at the heart of animal research. The demand for NHPs in research has been covered extensively in the media, with stories depicting the ugly and often illegal lengths that facilities will go to get their hands on NHPs. Their practices not only put the wild populations of NHPs in danger, but also expose humans to potentially dangerous viruses that could cause the next large outbreak.

Cosmetics Testing: A Hopeful Turn

Amidst the gloom, there is a glimmer of hope. Legislative efforts against cosmetic testing may have been a factor in yielding a noticeable decrease in the use of hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs in recent years – each species group saw a decrease by more than 10 percent between 2021 and 2022. This positive trend, spurred by the enactment of various humane cosmetic acts across the country, demonstrates the power of legislative action in driving positive change for animal welfare. NAVS is hopeful that this trend will continue as our efforts continue to find success, which would not be possible without the advocacy and generosity of supporters like you.

Challenges in Reporting: Navigating the Veil of Secrecy

Despite the clear need to know the truth about animal testing, the path to transparency remains fraught with challenges.  Regulatory agencies have demonstrated a penchant for denying public access to important data.  The USDA removed public access to reports in 2017-18 (which lasted nearly two years). Further, historically, the USDA also included a summary report of the swaths of data from research facilities. The summary report helped boil down the large quantity of data for advocates and the general public alike and was a key part of a transparent process. Unfortunately, in the last decade, the summary report’s inclusion became less reliable. The summary report tends to be delayed in delivery, with an unclear timeline of when those figures become available every year. The reports are also less summarized than they have been in prior years, with data presented differently and with less data overall. This means that NAVS or anyone else interested in the data must mine through it painstakingly and arduously to get a very basic picture of the state of animal research in the country. These actions and others have hindered public awareness and accountability.

Moreover, by law APHIS reports make no mention of experiments conducted upon millions of animals excluded from the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  Thus, there is no accounting for research done on animals like fish, birds, rats, and mice. Equally important, facilities dedicated to breeding animals for research are not included in APHIS reports. This means that facilities like Charles River Laboratories, which conduct research as well as breeding, may only include a portion of the animals they hold for APHIS reporting since they are only required to report animals used or held for research.

U.S. law lags behind its European partners in reporting requirements. The European Union requires facilities to not only report nearly every animal that they use in research, including mice, rats, birds, fish, amphibians, cephalopods, and reptiles, but facilities must report the purpose of the research for each animal, too. The fact of the matter is that the US does not have anything close to this level of comprehensiveness in reporting, and it puts advocates at a disadvantage because we are largely left in the dark.

The need for comprehensive, accessible, and transparent reporting cannot be overstated – not only for the sake of public knowledge, but also for the potential to drive policy changes and reduce animal suffering.

NAVS Advocacy: A Beacon of Change

In the face of these challenges, NAVS stands as a beacon of change. We continue to advocate for a more transparent reporting system that includes all animals used in research, and we call for legislative action to expand the Animal Welfare Act to cover rats, birds, mice, and more. Our commitment to shining a light on these practices, advocating for the voiceless, and working towards a future where compassion and ethical considerations lead the way in scientific inquiry remains unwavering.

A Call to Action

As we reflect on the revelations unearthed by NAVS’ analysis of APHIS data, we are faced with a sobering truth – the need for transparency in animal research has never been greater. We urge you to support our mission, demanding accountability from regulatory agencies, and promoting legislative efforts aimed at reforming animal research practices.

Together, we can build a future where scientific progress and ethical considerations go hand in hand, and where the voices of the voiceless are heard and respected.