Millions of animals suffer and die every year in labs in Canada, subjected to experiments performed by universities, government departments, and private corporations.
The animal experimentation industry is largely unregulated and allowed to operate in near secrecy. No one knows exactly how many animals are used because many private-sector experimenters are unregulated and not required to disclose the numbers of animals used, species, or the types of tests they perform. The number of private facilities conducting animal experiments in Canada is unknown.
But in 2013—the last year for which some statistics are available—there were over three million animals used in research, teaching, and testing. This is up from the two-and-a-half million animals reported a decade prior in 2003, and the nearly two million first reported in 1996.
The cruel tests endured by animals for the sake of cosmetics—including painful eye and skin irritation tests—have been outlawed elsewhere in the world. Animal advocates are now mobilizing to ban animal testing for cosmetics right across Canada.
THE ANIMALS USED
Many animals used in labs are bred specifically by the research industry, brought into the world for the sole purpose of enduring cruel and unnecessary lab experiments. Other times, the research industry
will steal wild animals from their natural homes to use in tests. Shockingly, in many jurisdictions experimenters are still allowed to take dogs and cats from animal pounds and shelters and subject them to painful tests.
Mice and rats are curious, intelligent, and resourceful animals; they often make loving companion animals. They are incredibly social and sensitive to the emotions of fellow rats. Rats are capable of altruism; they will even forgo a food reward to save a drowning companion. Yet these smart and gentle creatures make up nearly half of the animals reported as used and killed, often enduring painful and lethal experiments.
Fishes are sensitive, can use tools, and have impressive cognitive powers; yet they make up nearly a third of the animals reported as used in research.
The research industry also tests on virtually every other type of animal imaginable, nonhuman primates, cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, farmed animals, amphibians, reptiles, and octopuses. In 2013, more than four thousand nonhuman primates were reported as used by experimenters, including orangutans, macaques, and lemurs.
LACK OF OVERSIGHT & SECRECY
The federal government does not regulate animal research. Instead the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is a non-government organization with no legal authority that sets voluntary guidelines for animal research. Only institutions that receive federal grant money are required to follow the CCAC’s
oversight procedures; for private labs, compliance is largely optional. Some provinces require that animal researchers follow CCAC procedures, but most do not. With universities receiving more private money and relying less on public funds, there is increasingly little incentive to opt in to the limited oversight provided by the CCAC.
The CCAC is run primarily by animal researchers and others who support animal research, including the pharmaceutical industry, medical researchers, universities, the scientific community, and federal granting agencies.
The CCAC delegates experiment approval to Animal Care Committees (ACCs) at the research facilities themselves. ACCs are dominated by sympathetic fellow animal researchers and are often eager to approve cruel and questionable experiments; they have the power to exclude or outvote any person on the ACC who disagrees with animal research. There is a very low approval threshold for research projects even when a project causes significant animal suffering. There is no national coordination by the CCAC to ensure that experiments are not being needlessly duplicated by different labs.
The CCAC conducts its own assessments of animal research labs only once every three years. Inspections are scheduled well in advance, giving labs ample time to clean up and give the appearance of compliance with CCAC animal care guidelines. If a lab passes inspection, future assessments may be reduced to one visit every five years. In principle, a lab that is not in compliance may have its research funding cut off, but there is no evidence that this has ever once happened in the 49-year history of the CCAC.
Animal use in research largely falls into several main categories: basic science, regulatory safety testing—including cosmetics, pharmaceutical and medical or veterinary product development, and teaching and training.
Because of the high degree of secrecy involved with animal research in Canada, it is difficult to uncover the details of the experimentation inflicted on animals in labs. We do know that the CCAC classifies experiments by categories of invasiveness, and still permits experiments that cause unimaginable suffering to the animal victims without pain relief.
Category D experiments cause moderate to severe distress or discomfort, including prolonged physical restraint; exposure to poison and noxious substances; radiation sickness; and drug and chemical exposure. Category E experiments cause severe pain, and include exposure to chemicals or drugs causing death, severe pain, of extreme distress; highly-invasive new biomedical experiments; operating or inflicting trauma or burns without anaesthetics; agonizing toxicity testing; and experimentally-induced infectious diseases that result in death. In 2013, a shocking 1,176,295 animals were used in Category D experiments, and 78,294 were subjected to Category E experiments.
When the details of animal experiments do leak out into the news, many people are appalled. Dalhousie researchers faced backlash in 2015 when reports surfaced that they were sewing shut the eyelids of kittens.
The federal government uses a significant number of animals in cruel experiments. The Department of National Defence was recently exposed as one of the only NATO countries still using nearly 3,000 live animals every year in chemical weapons testing and medical training. Instead of using humane, animal-free simulations, the military continues to train medics by inflicting horrifying chemical agent exposure, penetrating injuries, gunshot wounds and amputation hemorrhaging on pigs and goats.
Researchers also test on thousands of primates every year—humans’ closest relatives. They endure invasive research and suffer significantly. Primate research and testing is wildly unpopular; Air Canada listened to its customers and ended shipments of primates bound for research in 2013.
Yet when a University of Toronto administrator stated publicly that the University would stop conducting experiments on live monkeys, the University was cowed into reversing this position by backlash from animal experimenters who alleged an “emotional” and “very irresponsible” stance on the issue.