The choice isn’t between animals and people. There’s no guarantee that drugs are safe just because they’ve been tested on animals. Because of the physiological differences between humans and other animals, results from animal tests cannot be accurately extrapolated to humans, leaving us vulnerable to exposure to drugs that can cause serious side effects. Drugs that sicken or kill animals don’t always prevent a drug from being marketed. So much evidence has accumulated about differences in the effects that chemicals have on animals and humans that government officials often do not act on findings from animal studies. In the last two decades, many drugs, including phenacitin, Eferol, Oraflex, Suprol, and Selacryn, were taken off the market after causing hundreds of deaths and/or injuries. In fact, more than half the drugs that the Food and Drug Administration approved between 1976 and 1985 were either removed from the market or relabeled because of serious side effects. If the pharmaceutical industry switched from animal experiments to sophisticated non-animal tests, we would have greater protection, not less.
In addition to saving the lives of countless animals, alternatives to animal tests are efficient and reliable. Non-animal methods usually take less time to complete, can be conducted at a fraction of the cost of the animal experiments that they replace, and are not plagued with species differences that make extrapolation difficult or impossible. Effective, affordable, and humane research methods include studies of human populations, volunteers, and patients as well as sophisticated in vitro, genomic, and computer-modeling techniques.