20 February 2012
The findings of an LDF survey of European universities reveal that thousands of animals including mice, rats, guinea pigs, frogs and dogs are being used in unnecessary university practicals every year when humane alternatives are readily available.
The LDF commissioned researchers from the University of Edinburgh to conduct a Europe-wide survey on innovative teaching and learning in pharmacology and physiology in higher education in Europe. This included questions about the current use of animals and the use of computer-based alternatives as replacements.
The findings are especially disturbing since alternatives, including computer simulations, have been available for university courses in subjects like pharmacology for almost 30 years. The LDF has been at the forefront of developing these technologies, having started funding the creation of the first computer simulations for use in 1986, and continues to update and develop these for worldwide use.
The findings of our survey are shocking because alternatives to using these animals have been available for years and are widely accepted within academia. Yet a huge number of academic institutions are ignoring the alternatives and continuing to use animals. The LDF believes that there needs to be a clear political Europe-wide commitment to eradicate the use of animals in university practicals, or it is simply never going to stop and will be pressing for a European timetable to eradicate the use of animals in higher education.
The Edinburgh University team sent questionnaires to 294 institutions in 10 European countries. Of the universities sampled, the UK had the fourth highest average levels of animal use in teaching after France and Spain with Spain using the highest number of mammals and the UK the highest number of amphibians. The most commonly used animals are mice, rats, guinea pigs, and frogs, although dogs are being used in Macedonia and Spain.
The LDF had commissioned the survey to establish the extent of use of innovative teaching and learning methods in pharmacology and physiology which are the disciplines using most animals in teaching, and the barriers to the adoption of humane alternatives. The authors Professor David Dewhurst and Dr Akiko Hemmi believe that the study possibly represents the most comprehensive survey carried out to date particularly in those countries where there is no systematic collection of animal use data.
Professor Dewhurst said: “Globally there are ethical objections to the use of animals in bio/medical sciences training and there are good, robust alternatives available, which have proved to be educationally effective. I used computer-based alternatives in my own teaching for many years. They were well-liked by students, freed more of my time to diagnose students’ learning problems and provide additional tuition during a practical class, and saved considerable time and money.”
In the EU the latest figures state that 207,457 animals were used for “education and training” (this figure is not believed to include the majority of animals used in practicals) so the figure will be far greater. For details see here.
The University Grants Commission, which is the regulatory body for higher education in India, has recently published recommendations calling for an end to animal dissection and animal experimentation for university and college zoology and life science courses - a move that will save the lives of approximately 19 million animals each year. For details see here