Pharmaceutical Behemoth Ends Near-Drowning Tests on Animals

After Meeting With PETA, AbbVie Becomes First Pharmaceutical Company to Implement a Policy Against the Forced Swim Test

For Immediate Release:
December 18, 2018

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382


After a meeting with PETA last week, AbbVie Inc. has become the first pharmaceutical company to officially end the cruel forced swim test. The Chicago-based pharma giant has committed to not conducting or funding the test, in which mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, or gerbils are placed in beakers filled with water from which they can’t escape and are forced to swim in order to avoid drowning. The company has implemented a new policy stating that it “does not currently use or intend to use or fund animal forced swim tests.” A paper published in 2018 referenced use of the test, which was initially called a “despair test.”

In addition to terrifying small animals into thinking they’re drowning, the forced swim test has been criticized for its flawed science. Some experimenters claim that animals who spend more time floating are “depressed.” But many scientists respond that floating is not a sign of despair but rather a positive indication that animals are learning, conserving energy, and adapting to a new environment. Watch this video of the test.

AbbVie’s meeting with PETA followed the group’s submission of shareholder resolutions calling on four pharmaceutical companies—AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Company, and Pfizer Inc.—to end their use of the forced swim test. Combined, the corporations have subjected at least 5,461 mice, 1,066 rats, 748 gerbils, and 305 guinea pigs to the cruel and pointless test in the past 30 years—as documented in 45 published papers and 16 patent applications. PETA scientists identified 47 compounds that had been tested on animals and found that even though 36 of them appeared to have antidepressant characteristics based on the test, none is currently approved to treat human depression.

“Forcing frantic animals to swim for fear of drowning is both physically and psychologically abusive and is irrelevant to human depression,” says PETA neuroscientist Dr. Emily Trunnell. “It’s time that Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly followed AbbVie’s lead and ditched the forced swim test.”

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