“If it took the sacrifice of a million lab animals to save just one human life, it would be worth it…”

That’s what one of my English students (who has a university degree in Biology) told me about a month ago. The two of us were chatting about her previous job, which was in a lab. I don’t remember how exactly we got onto the subject of testing drugs on lab animals, but I do remember this: as soon as she uttered the above sentence, I realized that there was no turning back…

This BBC “Ethics Guide,” titled “Experimenting on animals” will help introduce what I plan to write about today: http://goo.gl/oUJ0W Note that, among other interesting things, the article points out that sometimes potentially useful drugs that might have been safely administered to humans have a harmful effect on animals (therefore, they are not used).

Okay, here goes. A “difficult issue” indeed…!!!

It has always bothered me to read about “in vivo” studies. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rodents, but I’ve always been haunted by photos/videos of mice being injected with tumor cells, given high-dose toxic treatments to make their tumors shrink and then being “sacrificed.” Luckily, thus far I haven’t seen photos of any dog, cat or primate experiments…I mean, not in any of the myeloma studies I’ve read thus far. But I’m not naïve. I know what goes on…

The point of no return began for me last fall, after I watched a report on a popular Italian TV show (“Striscia la Notizia”)  about a beagle puppy breeding company located in northern Italy…a horrible place called “Green Hill,” owned by a U.S. corporation, Marshall Farm, which is a commercial breeder of dogs and ferrets for pets and scientific research (source: Wikipedia). Since then, I’ve read a lot on this topic and have seen what happens to animals in labs (as much as I can stomach…not much, to tell the truth).

But why am I writing about this today? Two main reasons.

  1. Tomorrow is the International Day of Action to Close Green Hill…a day of world-wide protests against vivisection in general. Protests are being organized in front of Italian consulates and embassies in many cities across the world…for example in New York City (from 11 AM to 2 PM, 690 Park Avenue, between 68th St& 69th St). You can find a list of cities here, just scroll down the page: http://goo.gl/hgxVC
  1. Day after tomorrow an Italian Senate committee will be voting on some amendments to the European Directive on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research 63/2010. If the amendments pass, then the breeding of dogs, cats and primates as well as all experiments carried out without anesthesia (!) will be banned in Italy…and Green Hill will be closed (of course, there are many more Green Hills all around the world, unfortunately, but it’s a start…).

So it’s time for me to speak up…

Now, I’m sure most of you (I would hope, ALL of you!) would agree with me that it’s criminal and morally (etc.) unacceptable to test cosmetics and housecleaning products on animals. You might even agree not to buy products from companies that test on animals, such as Oréal, Clinique, Max Factor and Proctor and Gamble (P&G is a really bad one!). So I’ll give you a list of these companies at the end of this post…

But the issue of testing drugs on animals to find a treatment or a cure for something is most likely going to be a different matter. You’ll tell me that, thanks to research on animals, we now have access to a lot of treatments for many horrible human ailments. Yes, yes, yes, I know all that. As I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot on this topic in recent months, and I’ve also read statements by those who support testing on animals. I like to have the full picture before deciding how I feel about an issue. And this particular issue, of course, is of vital importance to me, since I have smoldering myeloma…

But it’s time to realize the following: tests done on animals most often do not yield the same results when done on humans. Indeed, results frequently vary between species that are quite similar…mice and rats, e.g.

More food for thought: the miracle drug penicillin might not be available to us today if it had been tested only on guinea pigs or hamsters. Penicillin, you see, is very toxic to guinea pigs and hamsters: http://goo.gl/OvkVK “Luckily” for us, though, it was tested on mice who reacted well to it. Another example: aspirin is very toxic to cats. So, if we’d tested aspirin only on cats, today we might not be taking it: http://goo.gl/W2Vd8 There are other examples, of course, but these should suffice.

Another related point: if testing on animals works so well, as animal testing supporters maintain, then why is it necessary to have preliminary “drug safety” clinical trials for cancer treatments? And, in those Phase I trials, why do we use patients who are more often than not in the final stages of cancer? These, of course, are rhetorical questions…I know the answers…

And here’s another consideration: even those animals who aren’t “sacrificed” spend the rest of their lives inside a cage, for no reason whatsoever, since many of the substances tested on them will never be given to us humans. Does that make any sense?

Even the best-treated lab animals (of which I’m sure there are many, mind you) are under constant stress (not to mention in pain, scared out of their wits, angry, etc.). How can we expect their immune systems to react normally, under such unacceptable “living” conditions? Consider the following scenario: let’s say that from the time you are a child you are locked inside a small cage and taken out only to receive injections (or worse). You never go outside, you never get a hug from anyone, you never breathe any fresh air, etc. etc. etc. Do you think your test results be reliable?

It’s a difficult topic. I realize that. Obviously, if you asked me point-blank if I want a cure for myeloma, my answer would be an immediate “yes!!!” If I could have saved Nancy (La Cootina)…and so many others…

But if you then told me that a million animals would have to die horrible painful deaths to find that cure, I’d give you a different answer. This is a question I’ve had in my mind ever since I watched that “Striscia la Notizia” report on Green Hill (or Hell, rather): is MY human life more valuable than that of a beagle or of a cat (etc.)? Because you see, it really boils down to that. To the survival of the fittest…

Now please have a look at this incredible story of things that can go really wrong: http://goo.gl/T8Buu. The drug mentioned in this BBC article, a monoclonal antibody, was tested extensively on rodents, rabbits and even monkeys before being administered to humans. And look what happened, even though these “volunteers” were given a dose that was 500 times smaller than that given to monkeys…500 times smaller…It happened in 2006. 

We already have a few alternatives to animal testing. And we could and should focus on finding more alternatives. Johns Hopkins has a “Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing”: http://goo.gl/Z1sw0…as does the University of California at Davis: http://goo.gl/UW6KF

I could go on and on…linking to websites that show some of the horrible procedures done to animals inside labs…discussing the huge financial interests behind animal testing…but, after pondering the issue carefully, I’ve decided to keep it as short and simple as possible:

  • We need to find and use alternative methods to testing on animals (high-tech simulators and so on) . 
  • We need to urge the Italian Senate committee to vote for the above-mentioned amendments day after tomorrow. These amendments are certainly not perfect, but they’re a start. 
  • We need to shut down Green Hill in Montichiari, near Brescia, free those poor beagles from their cages and let them go outside to breathe some fresh air for the first time in their lives…

After work tomorrow I’m going to join the protest in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence (Italy), which begins at 4 PM. I really hope to see some of you there!

P.S. Some useful/interesting readings:

  • A “Slate” magazine article on the problems with animal testing: http://goo.gl/jLNty
  • A list of companies that test on animals: http://goo.gl/iE7oj (Yeah, I was surprised at some of the names on this list, too.) And here’s a list of companies that do NOT test on animals. Please use their products instead: http://goo.gl/10s1a
  • “Rats: Test Results That Don’t Apply to Humans”: http://goo.gl/n9hBW Very interesting.
  • This BBC article shows that robots might be able some day to replace animal testing: http://goo.gl/yxHvA I would also like to note that many university labs around the world no longer test on animals, especially primates. As I said, it’s a start…


  1. Many many thanks for this great piece and for your support.
    It’s a very hard struggle, but we’ll be succesfull one day! We MUST be!
    Lots of wishes to You

  2. I don’t think I can make it to Florence in time!

    Apparently I’ve been a pain to buy for for many, many years, more than 20, as everything had to be bunny free (as we referred to non animal tested stuff). I see no reason why cosmetics or household products should be animal tested.

    I know the medical side is a difficult issue and that’s why years ago I decided to support Dr Hadwen Trust who fund alternatives to animal testing rather than a charity who just wanted to stop it.

    And where would I be if guinea pigs had responded negatively to Thalidomide but then again there would be a generation of people who hadn’t been disabled by it.

  3. Thank you Margaret for your great blog, which so marvelously perks up the medical info with your beautiful stories and photos.
    More power to you.
    From wife of MGUS patient

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