TOPIC GUIDE: Animal Experimentation

"Animal experimentation cannot be justified "

PUBLISHED: 01 Jan 2014

AUTHOR: Joel Cohen

Share this Topic Guide:

Download topic guide (500k)


In 2013, the Home Office announced that the number of animals used in scientific experiments rose 8% between 2008 and 2012, reaching 4.11 million despite coalition pledges to lower it [Ref: Daily Mail]. While animal rights campaigners see this increase as evidence that the scientific community are failing to meet ethical duties to avoid harming animals [Ref: Guardian], advocates of animal testing claim its potential benefit to medical and scientific progress are a necessary evil outweighing other concerns [Ref: Huffington Post]. Two fundamental issues are at stake. First, there is the scientific question of the nature of the contribution that animal experiments make to medical and scientific progress. Second is the moral status of animals. These ethical issues first came to prominence in the 1970s when the publication of Peter Singer’s book ‘Animal Liberation’ helped launch the animal rights movement.

For further reading use the menu bar on the right hand side.


This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

Animal Experimentation: a contemporary controversy
While the rights and wrongs of animal testing have been disputed for decades, today the issue remains controversial with a recent poll finding that public support has dropped since 2010 [Ref: Financial Times]. This may be due to the activities of animal rights groups who led Cambridge University to abandon its plans for a primate research lab in 2004 [Ref: BBC News] and have influenced the EU’s decision to ban animal testing for cosmetic purposes and the sale of any cosmetic product tested on animals [Ref: BBC News]. On the other hand, the scientific community has been vocal in advocating animal research as illustrated by the Pro-Test demonstrations in 2006. In consequence, government policy today supports the scientific use of animals in experiments albeit with an emphasis on the principles of the 3Rs – Replacing, Refining and Reducing the use of animal testing where possible. Recent high profile controversy around Imperial College’s alleged breach of the 3Rs has led animal rights groups to argue that more transparency is needed to safeguard animal welfare [Ref: Huffington Post]. As such, a range of universities, pharmaceutical companies and research councils released a ‘Declaration of Openness’ stating their commitment to public scrutiny’s: “essential role in building the world-leading ethical framework” for research [Ref: Understanding Animal Research].

What are the moral arguments for and against animal experimentation?

The case against animal testing is rooted in an understanding of a shared moral status between humans and animals, as evidenced in their capacity to suffer pain [Ref: Guardian]. Scientific theories that explain the common origins of humans and animals [Ref: Guardian] have also been used by campaigners to justify animals the extension of some rights [Ref: Project Syndicate] as evidenced in the 2010 EU ban on ‘great ape’ experimentation [Ref: Independent]. In contrast, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, Colin Blakemore, argues that absolute bans: “simply replace a defensible, common-sense ethical boundary (between human beings and the rest of the animal world) with a dubious one (between the lucky banned species and the rest)” [Ref: Guardian]. Many advocates of animal experimentation have therefore historically dismissed calls to expand our sphere of concern to animals because of their past and potential future contribution to scientific research [Ref: BBC]. “Testing on animals,” says Hannah Devlin, science editor of The Times, “has been involved in almost every medical treatment that is available today — antibiotics, insulin, cancer drugs, heart surgery and organ transplantation” [Ref: The Times].

Are animals necessary for better research?
Similarly convinced, Lord Robert Winston recently proposed that drugs developed using animals should be labelled: “to demonstrate that [research] is being done for really important reasons” [Ref: RSC]. In opposition, campaigners like Jane Goodall have suggested that: “the insistence on animal research might actually be holding back medical progress” by preventing the development and application of new technologies [Ref: The Times] like computer modelling [Ref: New Scientist], human volunteers and in vitro cell cultures [Ref: The Times]. Evidence that animals are: “rarely necessary in producing medicines” has also left several recent investigations questioning the value of animals to research [Ref: Guardian]. Proponents of testing counter this by pointing out that more effective research methods, not blanket bans might better reduce the number of animals tested [Ref: Telegraph]. Others go further explaining that scientific discovery is as much about learning from failure as it is about practical outcomes [Ref: spiked]. Research is therefore justified beyond its medical benefits advancing broader understanding in other areas including veterinary science [Ref: New York Times].

What is at stake?
Animal rights theorist, Richard Ryder, coined the term ‘speciesism’ to describe prejudice against animals, on a par with racism or sexism [Ref: Wikipedia]. But most of us still recognise the distinction between humans and animals in our everyday lives, whether that be eating meat or putting our interests before those of our pets, for example. Can animal experimentation ever be carried out ethically, or is the subjection of animals to human need always barbaric? Will we always need animals for scientific advancement and if so would medicine suffer without them? Should we expand our sphere of moral concern to include animals on a more equal basis, or is there something unique about human beings that justifies us in using animals for our own ends?


It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.

You won’t find chimps having this debate

Richard Ryder vs Kenan Malik Guardian 13 June 2006


Criticism of Animal Research at Imperial College London

Michelle Thew Huffington Post 11 December 2013

Animal testing – its time to talk about it again

Bibi van der Zee Guardian 18 July 2013

So much animal pain, so little human gain

Jane Goodall The Times 17 March 2012

All beings that feel pain deserve human rights

Richard Ryder Guardian 6 August 2005


Don’t let the forces of unreason stop research

Hannah Devlin The Times 17 July 2013

Of mice and medicine: In defence of animal experiments

Paul Valley Independent 22 October 2011

Should we experiment on animals? Yes

Colin Blakemore Telegraph 28 October 2008

A Necessary Evil

Colin Blakemore Guardian 4 June 2008

The hard arguments about vivisection

Stuart Derbyshire spiked 2 March 2006


Should medicines be tested on animals?

Hilarie Stelfox Huddersfield Daily Examiner 28 September 2013

The ethics of animal research

Simon Festing & Robin Wilkinson EMBO reports 2007


Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Animal Testing is so 2014

Dr. Nahum Kovalski Times of Israel 8 September 2014

Birth of Pro-Test Israel

Shaul Peretz Speaking of Research 19 August 2014

How animals can help us understand disease

Dr Alison Woollard BBC 28 December 2013

Concordat on Openness on Animal Research

Understanding Animal Research 19 November 2013

An Ode to Science’s Most Tested Critters

Huffpost Live 8 August 2013

Apes Need Vaccines, Too

Jon L Vande Berg New York Times 1 August 2013

Animal testing in line with Jewish principles

Yitzhak Tesler ynet 25 March 2012

Israel: The nerve center of the global pharma industry

Thomas White International 2 December 2011

A Necessary Evil

Colin Blakemore Guardian 4 June 2008

The Great Ape Debate

Peter Singer Project Syndicate 16 May 2006

Can Computer models replace animal testing?

Celeste Biever New Statesmen 16 May 2006

The hard arguments about vivisection

Stuart Derbyshire spiked 2 March 2006

In Our Time: Animal Experiments and Rights

BBC Radio 4 18 March 1999


Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.


An Ode to Science’s Most Tested Critters

Huffpost Live 8 August 2013

In Our Time: Animal Experiments and Rights

BBC Radio 4 18 March 1999

This site contains links to websites operated by parties other than Debating Matters. Although we make every effort to ensure links are current, they will sometimes break after Topic Guide publication. If a link does not work, then the publication reference and date should enable you to find an alternate link. If you find a broken link do please send it to the webmaster for review.


© 2005-2022 Debating Matters Competition, boi, Unit 208, Cocoa Studios, The Biscuit Factory, Drummond Road, London, SE16 4DG, UK

Tel +44 (0)20 3176 0827 - | admin login