Safer Medicines - putting patient safety first

Putting patient safety first

Frequently Asked Questions

Aren't the 3Rs ("Reduce, Refine and Replace") the best way to phase out animal experiments?

The 3Rs (“Reduce, Refine and Replace”) are based on the assumption that experiments on animals, though unpalatable, are scientifically valid, leading to cures and treatments for human disease. Proponents of the 3Rs advocate reducing, refining and replacing animal experiments with 'alternatives'. The principle has merit in theory - though not in practice - from an animal welfare perspective. However, it makes no scientific sense because if a practice does not work, there is little point in reducing or refining it. The 3Rs have unfortunately become a smokescreen, which allows the continuation of animal experiments to seem acceptable - as long as the 3Rs are applied. The industry could not have devised a better PR campaign.

Those who endorse the 3Rs and Alternatives promote the 'necessary evil' view of animal experiments. They maintain that each type of experiment - of which there are millions - is, regrettably, necessary until it can be replaced by an Alternative. This perpetuates both the practice and the myth that sustains it. Animal experimenters claim that each and every experiment must be assessed on a case-by-case basis for scientific validity and justification. However, science tells us otherwise:

  • Applying knowledge gained from animals to humans harms humans most of the time (see A Critical Look at Animal Experimentation for many examples)
  • Intractable differences between species mean that animals cannot 'predict' how the human body will respond to a disease or a drug. Their use violates the most fundamental principle of biology: evolution. Therefore the 'animal model' paradigm should be rejected as unscientific.

The 3Rs serve to deflect attention and debate away from the very real issue of the scientific validity of animal experimentation. While appearing to focus attention on concern for the welfare of laboratory animals, those promoting the 3Rs avoid entering into dialogue on the justification of using animals as models of human disease. The scientific literature of the last 100 years or so reveals sufficient evidence to demonstrate that using animal data in medical research is misleading and often dangerous.

Science already has a wealth of superior (not 'alternative'!) human-based methods at its disposal. They are responsible for the medical care we enjoy today and are the only way to prevent, cure and treat human illness - yet many are starved of funds while animal experimentation is highly funded. The animal experiment lobby maintains that animal experimentation is an expensive business - it is. But it is not just costing society enormous sums of money, it is costing us far more in terms of human health.

Society need not fear that abandoning animal experimentation would mean giving up medical progress. On the contrary, it would ensure greater safety for patients and volunteers in clinical trials and a higher probability of finding cures for human illness.

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