Animal Aid

Shift in GP attitudes - Doctors fear animal experiments endanger patients

Posted 1 September 2004
Rabbit in experiment

Pro-vivisectionists routinely claim that family doctors are keen supporters of experiments on animals. A new poll of GPs proves the opposite.

Patient advocacy group Europeans For Medical Advancement (EFMA) commissioned a survey of 500 General Practitioners, conducted by TNS Healthcare between 5th - 17th August 2004.

The company selected the GPs so as to ensure a thorough demographic and geographical UK spread. The results show a staggering level of distrust in results obtained from animal experiments:

  • 82% were concerned that animal data can be misleading when applied to humans
  • only 21% would have more confidence in animal tests for new drugs than in a battery of human-based safety tests
  • 83% would support an independent scientific evaluation of the clinical relevance of animal experimentation

This confirms what EFMA suspected - that a silent majority of doctors today are aware that animal tests are not the safety net the public and the medical profession are frequently assured they are by the government and the pharmaceutical industry.

In fact, there is evidence that testing new drugs and treatments for human disease on animals endangers human health and safety - for example, hormone replacement therapy increases women's risk of heart disease and stroke, even though studies in monkeys predicted the opposite. Aidsvax failed to protect 8,000 volunteers from HIV, even though it protected chimpanzees. Dozens of treatments for stroke have tested safe and effective in animals in recent years but patients have been injured or killed by all of them.

The clinical relevance of animal research requires urgent evaluation - a fact now accepted amongst the medical profession but not by the government, which "has not commissioned or evaluated any formal research on the efficacy of animal experiments and has no plans to do so".* A paper published in the BMJ on 28th February 2004 asked "Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?" If such evidence cannot be found, the practice should cease. Patients will benefit because they will no longer be damaged by misleading data, and also because the resources currently pouring into animal research will be freed for clinical research.

Mouse in cancer experiment

Medical Director of EFMA, Dr Ray Greek, commented:

"An independent, transparent and public evaluation of the scientific value of animal experiments is clearly overdue. My medical colleagues have long been frustrated by the Establishment's refusal to debate this issue openly. We believe they must now do so. Today, we are studying disease on the molecular level, where differences between species make mistakes inevitable. Today, medicine is much more evidence-based and it is time to weigh the real harm from animal experiments against the alleged benefits."

Rescued guinea pigs

Lib Dem Shadow Environment Secretary Norman Baker MP said:

"This is an important survey result which rightly questions the extent to which it is safe to rely on extrapolated results from animal tests. There needs to be a debate about this matter, rather than the sterile one which the media has created, artificially juxtaposing 'animal extremists' with 'men in white coats'. While I utterly condemn the unlawful and intimidatory actions of a few extremists, it is wrong to suggest, as the media does all too often, that the scientific and medical community is all in favour of experiments on animals, and that they all feel safe with extrapolating the results. They aren't, and they don't."

* Written answer from Home Office Minister Caroline Flint to parliamentary questions by Mike Hancock MP (April 2004)

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