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January 20, 2012

Time for Canadian Biomedical Science to Join the 21st Century, Says HSI Canada

Canadian lab animal use holds steady at “shameful” 35-year high

Humane Society International/Canada

  • Animals are being subjected to pain and distress.

MONTRÉAL—Humane Society International/Canada has reacted strongly to statistics [PDF] released by the Canadian Council on Animal Care, which reveal the use of more than 3 million animals for research, testing and educational purposes in 2010, continuing the increase in animal use that started in the mid-1990s after twenty years of declining numbers. Unlike in other countries where dog and cat use in laboratories continues to fall, in Canada the use of these animals has been rising for over a decade.

“The CCAC’s announcement year after year of yet further increases in the number of animals used in experiments is becoming depressingly familiar,” says Troy Seidle, director of research and toxicology for Humane Society International. “These unacceptable levels of animal use speak volumes regarding the complacency of Canadian research authorities when it comes to meaningful reduction and replacement of animal testing, as well as investment in research that is truly relevant to the understanding and treatment of human disease.”

There is currently a revolution under way in the field of toxicology due to the failure of animal tests to correctly predict real-world human responses, which according to pharmaceutical regulators leads to the abandonment of 92 percent of new medicines that test safe and effective in rodents, dogs, and even other primates. Worldwide, companies and government authorities are refocusing their research efforts to understand the root causes and “pathways” of human toxicity and disease at the molecular and cellular levels.

Earlier this week an expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies called on Canada to “embrace and integrate new technologies and approaches into current chemical testing practices.” HSI Canada is calling on the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other research funding bodies to prioritize funding for new non-animal tools and approaches for the development of biomedical data, such as “-omic”, high throughput cellular, and computational systems biology models (as is being done in Europe and the United States).

Although animal experiments in Canada are hidden from significant public scrutiny by the CCAC’s policy of confidentiality, HSI Canada has used Access to Information legislation to monitor animal research carried out by federal government departments, such as Health Canada and the Department of National Defence. Examples of publicly funded animal experiments uncovered by HSI include:

  • Forced inhalation of deadly nerve gases in guinea pigs, mice and rats
  • Contaminated open-wound studies in pigs
  • Lethal “bio-weapon” vaccine tests in mice
  • Blistering mustard gas skin burn studies in rats

Many of these publicly funded experiments appear to violate one or more aspects of CCAC guidelines, yet there is no public evidence that any authority is doing something to change these practices or to reduce the very worrying upward trends in the numbers of laboratory animals experiencing moderate and severe pain and distress.

Time-series graphs on animal research available here [PDF].

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Humane Society International/Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across the country. HSI Canada has active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International—one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than 11 million members and constituents globally—on the Web at hsicanada.ca.

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