Each year experiments are carried out on over 100 million animals around the world, either for basic research, biomedical research, product testing, education and training or military research.
The main concern for the wellbeing of test animals is related to their way of life, the procedures involved, their origin and the suffering to which they are subjected. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFUE) recognises that animals are sensitive creatures and establishes that because of this the demands of animal wellbeing should be fully taken into account.
Most of the animals used in research are kept in controlled facilities their whole life. This usually means small individual cages without environmental enrichment. The conditions of upkeep are subject to requirements and regulations. In Spain a few general requirements of accommodation have been established, such as specific criteria for each individual group of animal. Rodents like mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs; rabbits; cats; dogs; ferrets; non-human primates; farm animals; birds; amphibians; reptiles and fish. The requirements are based mainly on that which is established in the European Convention for the protection of vertebrate animals used in experimentation and to other scientific ends and take into consideration factors such as the size of the cages, temperature conditions, ventilation and lighting.
The experiments usually provoke pain and many even cause the death of the animals. In the official Spanish reports on animal testing the use of animals is classified by whether the pain is slight, moderate, severe or if they never recover (in other words, death). In military research anaesthesia is not administered.
In Spain in 2015 animals were used in tests 68,439 times with “severe pain” and 331,234 times with “moderate pain”. A total of 75,027 animals did not recover and died.
The testing procedures are quite diverse, they may be deprived of food, water or sleep, irritants, corrosives or abrasives may be applied, they may be infected with illnesses, they may be genetically mutilated, etc. The vast majority of the experiments end by practising euthanasia on the animals if they have not died during the test.
As for the origin of these animals, generally they are specially-bred for laboratory, although in some countries they may be caught in the wild.
Animal testing may have many aims, but there are two which are particularly unnecessary, in cosmetics and military research. The two sub-sections in this section.
Nowadays there are numerous alternatives to animal testing which make it unnecessary to use animals. These include cultivating cells, tissues and organs, epidemiological studies, studies with human volunteers, clinical research, mathematical and computer models.
For this reason Russell and Burch introduced the principle of the “three Rs” in 1959, these stand for REDUCTION of the number of animal tests, REFINEMENT of the severity of the tests and the species used, and REPLACEMENT of the tests on animals with alternatives without animals. So this approach aims to minimise the impact of animal tests and ultimately replace them with alternatives.
It should be kept in mind that many products which are harmful to animals are not harmful to humans (for example, aspirin), and vice versa, which means that the results of tests on animals are not predictive and will always require a later check on humans. This fact proves the animal testing is not an efficient method.
Currently animal testing is only allowed in Spain for scientific and research purposes. This is controlled by the European Parliament Directive 2010/63/UE, 22 September 2010, regarding the protection of animals used for scientific ends.
Since 2014 the EU has demanded detailed annual reports on the use of test animals from each country.
In 2015 the initiative "Stop Vivisection" was presented to the European Commission, 1.2 million signatures asking for an end to animal testing. In June 2015 the European Commission rejected this citizen’s initiative.