How much do you know about the situation of animal testing in the Netherlands? In a technologically advanced country like the Netherlands, it sure feels like we should have plenty of great alternatives to animal testing. Besides, it seems that we only hear very incidentally about any case of animal testing in the Netherlands. This may give you the impression that animal testing is not so common here. But, what is the situation of animal testing in the Netherlands really like?
Sadly, the numbers of animals used for animal testing are horrendous. The most recent numbers about animal testing in the Netherlands show that in 2016 no less than 449.874 animals were being used in research. Many of these animals have either died as a consequence of the experiments, or were put down afterwards. Yet, the number of animals being bred for research purposes is even bigger. Way more animals are bred for animal testing than the amount of animals that is actually being used in research. This amount of extra bred animals who don’t get used in the end for animal testing, is what we call the breeding surplus. The breeding surplus of test animals in the Netherlands in 2016 came down to another 440.766 (!) animals. All of these animals were killed without even being tested on because researchers did not need to use them after all and they were deemed useless. The total amount of animals used or killed for research purposes therefore comes down to 890.640 animals in total in 2016.
Now you may wonder, has the situation not drastically improved since 2016? Even though we don’t have exact numbers, the situation does not look that much better now in 2019. Universities and other research centers are still using plenty animals for research. In 2017 VU Amsterdam announced the building of a new animal testing center, and the University of Amsterdam has reported a growth of animals being used in their research in the period of 2009-2014. The widespread use of so many animals for research purposes evokes many questions. For what exact purposes are so many animals used yearly? And is animal testing really so necessary that it’s worth over 890 thousand lives per year?
A lot of animals that are being used in or bred for animal testing, are bred because of health research purposes. But, animals are also used for psychological research. What the animals are used for can differ quite a lot per species. For example, dogs are often used for pharmaceutical research on medicine for heart disease. Cats, on the other hand, are often used for research on movement and the motor system, the respiratory tract and the brain. Mice are the most commonly used animals for animal testing: 43% of all animals used in animal testing in the Netherlands are mice. Mice are used for a great variety of research purposes. They are used for psychological research on behavior, but also medical research on the liver, lungs and viruses. They are also used for research on cancer, and even for research on Alzheimer’s disease.
Now is it really necessary to use animals in research, let alone this many? Right now, a growing number of scientists and organizations is working on cruelty free alternatives such as organs-on-chips and organoids. Many researchers are working on human research models that for example use stem cells or human tissue. There is an important reason why, besides from the cruelty aspect, human models are expected, and sometimes proved, to be much more effective in research than animal-based research. First of all, results of animal-based research are not directly transmittable to humans. Effects on the human body can only be measured by using human cells. Therefore, research results obtained from animal testing are not so reliable when it comes to the effect on humans. Also, research on animals is sometimes so badly manipulated that the results are not reliable at all. Research using a human model is more efficient because it saves the extra work of doing research on animals before research is done on humans. The good news is that there are quite a few initiatives that focus on research without animals. These initiatives are sometimes funded by organizations such as Stichting Dierproefvrij. We can only hope that more money will be made available for such initiatives, as they are often better for animals and humans alike.
Now that we know a bit more about what animal testing in the Netherlands looks like and what alternatives we have, there’s one more important question left. What can we as students do to help stop animal testing as soon as possible? We have three suggestions. First of all, it is important to know that all students in the Netherlands are granted the right to refuse to work with living animals. You can have an impact by choosing to never perform animal-based research and dedicate own research, when possible, to human based research models. Secondly, as vegans we all know that how we spend our money is one of the most powerful tools we have to change the world. Therefore, if you donate to or partner up with a non-profit organization, make sure that you first check whether they test on animals. It may sound like a good choice to donate money to the Hartstichting (Heart Association), but many health organizations such as the Hartstichting use donations to test on animals. Lastly, it is important to spread awareness about animal testing. Share the shocking images that you may come across, and stay updated on animal testing so that you can share your knowledge with others. You can do so by for example subscribing to the newsletter of organizations like Stichting Dierproefvrij that are actively striving to a world in which animal testing has no place.
Hopefully one day animal testing won’t even be considered an option anymore. Until that day arrives, we will keep on encouraging and celebrating the cruelty free research projects that have already been set up or will be in the future. We are convinced: change is on its way.