THE BLOG

April Fool's Day - Don't Be Fooled By Animal Research

01/04/2014 14:30 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

On April Fool's Day, the time of year when humans play practical jokes on each other, the BUAV is highlighting some of the more outrageous and frivolous animal experiments carried out in EU laboratories.

Most recent figures show that nearly 11.5 million animals were used by EU researchers in 2011. These numbers and these examples show, once again, that the claims made by the research industry that animal experiments are only conducted for vital medical research and only as a last resort are simply not correct.

Sadly, for the animals who had to suffer, this is no practical joke. These experiments showcase the disturbing and ridiculous lengths some researchers will go to in an attempt to mimic human illness and behaviour - when there is already far more reliable human data available. Moreover, such experiments belittle the complexity of human conditions which are affected by wide-ranging variables such as genetics, socio-economic factors, deeply-rooted psychological issues and different personal experiences.

Whilst these and other such experiments might seem to be wild hoaxes, they have in fact been licensed and carried out within the EU quite legitimately:

• Researchers wanted to determine whether different types of Coca-cola beverages harm male reproductive organs. For this they forced male rats to drink only regular, caffeine-free, Zero or Light Coca-cola instead of water for 6 months. The animals were then killed and their testicles were dissected for analysis. 50 rats were used (Slovakia, funded by the Slovak government).Researchers wanted to find out if stress during puberty is likely to trigger psychiatric disorders in adulthood. For this they subjected adolescent mice to a wide range of traumatising procedures which included restraining them in plastic tubes, giving them electric shocks, depriving them of water and forcing them to swim in inescapable pools of water. As adults, they were blasted with loud noises and placed in mazes designed to test their startle reflexes and anxiety levels, respectively, before being killed by decapitation and dissected for analysis. (Switzerland, funded by an EU FP7 project and the Swiss government).

• To investigate if memory is affected by sleep deprivation, researchers forced mouse lemurs (small primates) to stay awake for 8 hours by tapping and shaking their cages. The tired animals were then required to navigate mazes while readings were taken from electrodes surgically implanted in their brains. 31 mouse lemurs were used (France, funded by EU FP7 project Pharma-Cog).

• In order to look at the effect of 'binge drinking' on memory and learning, 69 rats were force-fed ethanol every day for six days then subjected to a forced swimming task. They were placed in a large pool of water and forced to find a small platform hidden under the surface of the water so they could rest. Some animals also had tubes surgically implanted in their brains to inject chemicals and remove brain fluids. (Sweden, funded by the Swedish government).

• In an effort to mimic the combination of MDMA and alcohol consumed by human teenagers at rave parties, adolescent mice were repeatedly injected with MDMA and ethanol, some mice receiving 16 injections over a two week period. The mice were then forced to navigate mazes to see if the drugs had an effect on their memory and ability to learn. 78 mice were used (Spain, funded by the Spanish government).

• In a bid to test the safety of Aloe Vera juice (produced by a US company called Herbalife), 96 rats were forced to drink various concentrations of the juice in their drinking water for 3 months. They were observed to see if they would die over this period and at the end were anesthetised and bled out through a puncture in their hearts so their tissues could be removed and examined. (UK, funded by Herbalife, conducted at Huntingdon Life Sciences, Cambridge).

• In a study of how Arctic reindeer cope with winter darkness, researchers killed reindeer using a bolt gun so they could dissect their eyes. At least 15 young reindeer were also anesthetised so that recordings of their eyes could be made before they were also killed.5 (carried out in Norway, using UK researchers and funded by the UK public body, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

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The public might be forgiven for thinking that some of these experiments must be a practical joke. The tragic fact that many of these tests involved a substantial amount of animal suffering and death shows they are no laughing matter. Claims by researchers that animals are only used in vital medical research are clearly misleading. It is outrageous that animals are being subjected to such ridiculous and frivolous experiments.