2016 Animal Statistics: A Closer Look

The Canadian Council on Animal Care recently released the 2016 statistics on the use of animals in science. We were disappointed to find that there has been a 21% increase in the total numbers of animals used in science since 2015, and that this increase brings animals number over the 4 million mark for the first time ever in Canada. There were increases in all animal categories (except guinea pigs and amphibians), most notably: cats (up 69%), dogs (up 58%), nonhuman primates (up 53%), and pigs (up 70%). Such trends require a closer look:

Overall trends

The CCAC caution that animal numbers reported from 2012 onwards cannot be compared with those from earlier years because the methods of collecting and reporting the annual data have changed. However, here at AiSPI we think there is still value in looking at annual trends to get an overall impression about whether, generally speaking, animal use in science in increasing or decreasing over time. Therefore, we have put together the following graph, being careful to mark 2012-2014 data in a different colour to respect CCAC’s caution about comparing data.

When viewing these trends in total animal numbers, what can be seen is that, in general, animal use has been increasing since the mid-late 1990s. This could be for several reasons:

First, as reported by Ormandy et al. (2009) trends in worldwide animal use seem to have been greatly driven by the creation and use of genetically-engineered animals, which really started to take off in the 1990s, and would certainly correspond with the CCAC annual data trends. This is further corroborated by the increase seen in animals assigned to Category of Invasiveness D (CI-D) (see graph below for trends in Categories of Invasiveness) – new genetically-engineered (GE) animal lines are required to be categorized as CI-D. It would contribute to our understanding of this trend if the number of GE animals was also reported (similar to the UK annual data).

Second, it could be that more institutions are joining and /or reporting their numbers to CCAC each year – this was one potential explanation for the increase in total numbers between 2013-2014. If this is the case then it is difficult to determine whether animal numbers are really increasing (e.g. if new animal-based research institutions are being built and more animals being used as a result), or whether it is the case that animals who were previously not counted and reported to CCAC are now being included. Either way, this highlights the shortcomings of the current systems for overseeing the use of animals in science in Canada (namely that privately-funded institutions are not obligated to be part of the CCAC program). Here, it would be helpful to know the number of institutions that have contributed their animal use numbers to CCAC each year.

Third, there might be more funding being given out for animal-based studies, which would inevitably lead to increases in animal numbers. If this is the case, then it highlights the need for non-animal methods to become a greater focus for granting agencies as more directed funding will improve both the methods themselves and their uptake in the scientific community.

It is worth noting that the total animal numbers presented by CCAC only represent live animals, or those killed on site for the purposes of teaching, testing, or research. Any animals that are procured off-site and are dead on arrival do not fall under the CCAC program. As such, these numbers do not represent many of the animals used for dissection in university education. In addition, the CCAC do not oversee the use of animals in high schools. The numbers presented also only represent those animals listed on experimental protocols, and as such do not include the numbers of animals that live out their days in laboratories, but are not used in experiments (for example, the animals used for breeding purposes).

 What were the animals used for?

The CCAC divides purpose of animal use into 5 types:

  1. Studies of a fundamental nature in science relating to essential structure or function
  2. Studies for medical purposes, including veterinary medicine, that relate to human or animal disease or disorders
  3. Studies for regulatory testing of products for the protection of humans, animals or the environment
  4. Studies for the development of products or appliances for human veterinary medicine
  5. Education and training of individuals in post-secondary institutions or facilities.

All purposes of animal use have increased since 2015. Notably, the use of animals in education has more than doubled.

 20152016
Fundamental Research2,300,1292,555,438
Medical/veterinary Research484,123572,557
Regulatory Testing204,897273,764
Product Development601,062627,768
Education167,162431,742

Annual trends, shown in the graph above, indicate that the use of animals in fundamental research has greatly increased in recent years. This could be due to an increase in environmental or wildlife studies where large populations of animals are studied in their natural habitats. But without further context to the data, this remains unknown.

The use of animals for education has also increased, which for AiSPI is a disappointing trend. There are many ways to replace the use of animals in all types of science education, without sacrificing educational merit. We would like to see the use of animals for education significantly decrease in the coming years.

What harm did the animals experience?

The CCAC divides animal experiments based on the so-called Categories of Invasiveness. These are as follows:

Category A: Experiments on most invertebrates or live isolates (data not collected)

Category B: Experiment which cause little to no discomfort or stress

Category C: Experiments which cause minor stress or pain of short duration

Category D: Experiments which cause moderate to severe distress or discomfort

Category E: Procedures which cause severe pain near, at, or above the pain tolerance threshold of unanesthetized conscious animals.

All categories except C have increased since 2015.

 20152016
B1,168,5991,719,208
C1,405,2641,376,031
D1,106,8641,269,575
E76,64697,455

Annual trends in Categories of Invasiveness indicate that overall, the number of animals in all categories has been increasing. So, it appears that there is no one Category that has been increasing disproportionally compared to others, rather the increases seen are a result of total animal numbers increasing.

 Species trends

For the animal species that increased significantly (that is, showed more than 50% increase since 2015) it is worth taking a closer look at what these animals were used for, and what harm they might have experienced.

Cats: The majority of cats were used for education (87%). Most cats were assigned to either Category of Invasiveness B or C (44% and 40% respectively). 89% of cats were random source, 3% were source unspecified, and 8% were purpose-bred. Random source, or source unspecified cats can include individuals procured from shelters. No random source or source unspecified cats were used for regulatory testing. Forty eight purpose bred cats were used for regulatory testing. The majority of random source (91%) or source unspecified (86%) cats were used for education. For those used for education that majority were in Category B or C, though 1161 individual random source, and 75 source unspecified cats were assigned to Category D for education. No cats were used in Category E for any purpose.

Dogs: The majority of dogs were used for education (48%), though many were also used for regulatory testing (25%). Most dogs were assigned to either Category of Invasiveness B or C (41% and 46%, respectively). 495 of dogs were random source, 2% were source unspecified, and 49% were purpose-bred. Random source or source unspecified dogs can include individuals procured from shelters. No random source or source unspecified dogs were used for regulatory testing. Four thousand, three hundred and ninety one (4391) purpose bred dogs were used for regulatory testing, the majority in Category C. The majority of random source (83%) or source unspecified (64%) dogs were used in education. For those used in education the majority were in Category B or C, though 552 individual random source dogs and 73 source unspecified dogs were assigned to Category D for education. No dogs were used in Category E for any purpose.

Nonhuman primates: The majority of nonhuman primates were used for regulatory testing (46%). Most non-human primates were assigned to Category of Invasiveness C (71%), though many were assigned to Categories B or D (both 14%). One hundred and seven (107) non-human primates were assigned to Category E for product development. Fifteen were assigned to Category D for education.

Pigs: The majority of pigs were used for fundamental research (37%), though many were also used for medical and/or veterinary research (35%). Most pigs were assigned to Category of Invasiveness B (57%), though many were also assigned to Category D (26%). Sixty six (66) pigs were assigned to Category E for medical or veterinary research, and 44 were assigned to Category E for product development. Three thousand seven hundred and twenty six (3726) pigs were assigned to Category D for education.

The use of animals in teaching: A special case

It is valuable to understand which types of animal use are in which Category of Invasiveness. The following table shows the Purpose of Animal Use data for 2016 broken down by Category of Invasiveness.

 Basic ResearchMedical/Veterinary ResearchRegulatory TestingProduct DevelopmentEducation
CI B809,731116,54285,800397,688309,447
CI C905,385132,217113,745277,53560,894
CI D829,012308,26511,97058,93961,389
CI E12,31015,53362,2497,35112

We find the fact that 12 animals were listed as being in Category E, and 61,389 were listed as being in Category D for teaching unacceptable, and in contradiction with CCAC’s own policy statement from 1989 which states: “painful experiments or multiple invasive procedures on an individual animal, conducted solely for the instruction of students in the classroom, or for the demonstration of established scientific knowledge, cannot be justified” (CCAC 1989).

Regulatory testing refers to animal tests that are required by law when testing the safety of certain products (e.g. drugs, medical devices, chemical, cosmetics etc.). It is valuable to see that regulatory testing is the purpose of animal use that assigns the most animals to Category E. This highlights a particular need for development and implementation of non-animal alternatives for regulatory testing, or at the very least a refinement of procedures to cause less harm to the animals used. This also underscores the need to change the regulations that require that animals be used in the safety and efficacy testing of certain products.

What does all this mean?

It can be hard to glean meaningful information from overall animal numbers. What most people want to know is less about numbers and more about the context of what the animals experienced as part of the experiments they were used in, who gave approval for the experiment to go ahead and how was that decision made, and what the day-to-day life of animals used in science is like. Such information is currently not provided alongside the animal data.

What the animal numbers do leave us with is a burning question: with advancements in science that allow for the replacement of animals with sophisticated, high-tech non-animal alternatives, why are animal numbers still going up?