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April Fool’s Day – Don’t be fooled by animal research

On April Fool’s Day, the time of year when humans play practical jokes on each other, the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), a coalition of leading animal protection organizations from across Europe, is highlighting some of the more outrageous animal experiments carried out in EU laboratories.

The most recent figures published in 2011 show that nearly 11.5 million animals were used by EU researchers.  These numbers and the following examples show the claims made by the research industry, that animal experiments are only conducted for vital medical research and only as a last resort, are simply not correct. 

Sadly, for the animals who had to suffer, this is no practical joke. These experiments showcase the disturbing and ridiculous lengths some researchers will go to in an attempt to mimic human illness and behaviour – when there is already far more reliable human data available. Moreover, such experiments belittle the complexity of human conditions which are affected by wide-ranging variables such as genetics, socio-economic factors, deeply-rooted psychological issues and different personal experiences.

The following are examples of experiments recently published by European researchers. They describe how animals were forced to ‘binge drink,’ exercise to the point of exhaustion and suffer the effects of nicotine, stress and anxiety:

•             In Norway, researchers wanted to determine whether stress in early-life leads to a greater risk of gum disease. For this, new-born rats were taken away from their mothers and left alone in cages for three hours every day for two weeks. At 13-weeks old, their anxiety levels were measured on a high, open platform. One week later, they were sedated and a thread was tied around one of their molars to induce gum disease. Finally, three weeks later, all of the animals were decapitated and their teeth examined. (Conducted at the University of Oslo, supported by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment).

•             In France, 41 mouse lemurs (small monkeys) of varying age were subjected to a series of behavioural tests every day for eight weeks in an experiment to see whether ageing lemurs behave similarly to aging humans. The monkeys’ memory, physical strength and anxiety levels were assessed during tests which involved forcing them to hang onto a smooth cylinder until they tired and fell off or running on a treadmill that increased in speed until they collapsed from exhaustion.  (Conducted at the National Museum of Natural History, funded by the EU FP7 project Pharma-Cog with support from Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline).

•             In the UK, to investigate if binge-drinking makes you more impulsive, groups of adolescent mice were injected with alcohol directly into their abdomens on four separate occasions for two days before being food restricted to reduce their weight by 85%. The mice were then subjected to behavioural tests, including a ‘mouse gambling task’, for milk drop rewards to see if these periods of binge drinking had made them more impulsive. (Conducted at the University of Sussex, supported by the European Commission InterReg project “AlcoBinge”).

•             In Italy, in order to look at the effect of alcohol exposure on a foetus, new-born rats were separated from their mothers and placed inside chambers where they were forced to breathe in vaporised alcohol three hours a day for three months. Some of the rats were anesthetised and injected with chemicals directly into their brains before being killed four days later. The other rats were also killed and their brains dissected. (Conducted at the Catholic University, Milan).

•             In Sweden, in a bid to study the long-term effects of nicotine exposure on the brain, 30 rats were injected with nicotine 15 times over a three-week period. After a seven-month period of not receiving any nicotine, the rats were injected with nicotine again every day for one week. The animals were subjected to weekly behaviour tests in which their movements were monitored while they were put inside a box for 30 minutes. At the end of the experiment all of the animals were killed and their brains dissected. (Conducted at the University of Gothenburg, supported by the Swedish Medical Research Council).

•             In the UK, to find out what happens when you stop exercising after a period of intense training, rats were forced to run on special motorised treadmills that delivered small electric shocks whenever they tried to stop and rest. While running, the speed and gradient of the treadmill was increased, until the rats reached exhaustion. After four weeks of intense exercise, they were left for four weeks before being forced back onto the treadmill. Some of the animals were subjected to injections directly into their abdomens twice daily. Some were also sedated for heart monitoring experiments before being killed and dissected. (Conducted at Liverpool John Moores University, supported by the British Heart Foundation and European Commission Framework 7 projects).

Dr Katy Taylor, Head of Science at the ECEAE, said:

“Animals are regularly used in disturbing experiments to investigate the effects of food, drink and recreational drugs as well as in curiosity driven studies to assess animal behaviour. These types of tests are not only cruel but also unnecessary as there are plenty of humans who voluntarily do these things that doctors can, and do, study."


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