Monday 19 September 2022 | 9

The ethical short-sightedness of animal testing

The ethical short-sightedness of animal testing

Mis à jour le 01 December 2022

Last June in Marseille, the FELASA 2022 congress assembled many people together who practice animal testing. Between a fish angling, an international accreditation association that assesses laboratories “by feeling”, and an ethicist who especially does not want to think beyond regulations, the animals are not out of the woods.

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Thursday 16 June in Marseille. Lynn Sneddon is one of the main speakers at the international congress dedicated to communication in animal testing. Sneddon has led profound research on analgesics for fish. She recognises the importance of their ‘welfare’ and has even written to her government and spoken with the aquaculture industry to try to improve practices.

She goes so far as to quote Gandhi: “Greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Will someone opposing animal testing therefore be able to push boundaries to put an end to these practices? Unfortunately, no.

Animals suffer — but each to their own

When it comes to talking about political and moral decisions, there is no one left. While she herself has participated in the discovery of the existence of pain in fish, Sneddon complains that the media have said that line fishing should be banned. After all, she has fishing friends who do not want to stop. In short, each to their own — and never mind the fish.

If the irony was not obvious enough so far, the photographs of the congress shared on Twitter allows a better measure as to what extent these people can be disconnected from the bad things that they do to animals: on one side, Lynn Sneddon with Florence the Fish (the congress mascot); on the other, Florence the Fish… angling.

Ethical evaluation in question

We can therefore legitimately ask if the ‘ethical’ evaluation, regularly alluded to by public authorities to defend animal testing, rests on a solid foundation.

Even the representative from AAALAC International (an association that accredits animal laboratories worldwide) recognises that the evaluation process is varied and that its result cannot be estimated. The evaluation is therefore done “by feeling”, on the basis of what is seen on the day of the inspection (planned well in advance).

Cost-benefit analysis at the heart of the rhetoric...

However, this same representative underlines the importance of the ‘cost-benefit’ analysis, comparing the true cost for the animals (stress, suffering...) and the potential benefits (generally for the human species). But when we ask them how to evaluate if this analysis has been done well by ethical committees, they evade the issue: “we do what we can”, “we need a more holistic view”.

To the more specific questions on the verification on possible benefits, another speaker responded that the funding of a project signifies in itself that the project will have benefits. It is a beautiful utopia to believe that funding is only based on the scientific merits of the projects… unless it is still a rhetorical fallacy.

The ethical committees’ evaluation methods and the results exist, however. A study published in 2001 even systematically compared the results of the evaluation with the same project by several US committees … leading to the conclusion that the evaluation is not reliable. This perhaps explains why such attempts have never been reproduced — either in the United States or in France, where the function of ethical committees in animal testing must be reformed in a radical way.

Ethics or regulations?

To finish, we remember a nice surprise during this congress: a contribution by Penny Hawkins from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), who dared to challenge the very notion of ‘ethical consideration’. Hawkins also reminded everyone that ethics must go further than applying regulations and the eternal 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement), ‘animal welfare’, or cost-benefit analysis to guide the way in which we should lead our lives.

According to her, “an ethical committee must be able to decide that a technique should not be used, or that a research domain should not be explored”. Unfortunately, the only response to this proposition came from an Austrian ethics professor who felt the need to state that ethics should never go further than the law in order not to encroach on academic freedom.

A freedom in which Penny Hawkins does not believe, particularly when the research teams are funded by public money. We can easily follow her on this point.

This article is the penultimate in a series which will present different aspects of the FELASA 2022 congress:

  1. Transparency and communication strategies in animal testing
  2. Language elements and rhetorical fallacies in animal testing
  3. The animal testing industry makes propaganda
  4. The ethical short-sightedness of animal testing
  5. Will there soon be more primates in laboratories?

Translated from the French by Joely Justice

Nicolas Marty
Hr blog

In the subject

Animal testing: investigation from One Voice in Mauritius into long-tailed macaque breeding farms 'Monkeys Labs': from condoned mistreatment, proven trafficking, and health risks

Comments 9

I accept that publication of my comments is subject to the code of conduct.

Emme | Monday 10 October 2022

Bonjour Monica, qu'est-ce qui vous bloque pour arrêter de consommer des produits animaux? Ça serait une façon puissante pour vous de ne plus porter atteinte au bien être animal. Vous n'êtes pas obligée de tout stopper d'un coup, certaines habitudes mettent du temps à être remplacées par d'autres, et il vaux mieux une évolution progressive et durable, que rapide mais éphémère. L'important, est de le faire :)

monica | Monday 03 October 2022

Je déteste toutes les formes d'atteinte au bien-être des animaux. Je ne suis pas végétarienne mais l'élevage, le transport et l'abattage des animaux destiné à la consommation humaine doit se faire aussi avec le moins de souffrance possible.

Patricia | Sunday 02 October 2022

On pourrait aussi dire : " on mesure la grandeur de nos gouvernants à la façon dont ils, elles traitent les animaux " et en France, visiblement, leur grandeur est du niveau basic humain.

Vertige | Sunday 02 October 2022

Il y a des milliers de gens qui soutiennent la souffrance et la mort de centaines de beagles et de Golden pour l'expérimentation à l'abominable École Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort - avec leurs dons au Téléthon.
Il faudrait les obliger à regarder la vidéo...