Animals have been used to test medicines and consumer goods for many years; however, their use has been widely criticized. Since1981, when PETA co-founder Alex Pacheco exposed the government-funded medical research involving what can only be called the torture of monkeys, animal advocacy groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have argued that all animal testing is cruel and unnecesary. Celebrities such as music luminary Paul McCartney have called for a ban on animal testing. However, what is not commonly known is that a subset of the scientific research community has long called for dramatic reductions to animal testing in medical research.
The Basel Declaration, adopted in November 2010, affirms the signatories' belief that animal testing in medical research is necessary, but should be used with caution and with care. Some of the "fundamental principles" listed in the declaration include "Respect and protect the animals entrusted to us and not inflict unnecessary pain, suffering, or harm to them by adhering to the highest standards of experimental design and animal care" and "Consider carefully whether research involving animals addresses questions of importance that cannot be answered using alternative methods." The first three signatories are Stefan Treue, Michael Hengartner, and Dieter Imboden.
The Basel Declaration Society was founded in October 2011 to promote the Basel Declaration and change the use of animals in medical research for the better. The September 2013 issue of Biome, published by BioMedCentral, contains an interview with Rolf Zeller, president of the Basel Declaration Society. In the interview, Dr. Zeller explains the origins of the "3R" principles for animal research. These principles -- replacement, reduction, refinement -- were introduced by W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch in 1959 in their book The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique.
As explained by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), there are many ways to use these principles to improve outcomes for research animals. Replacement can involve computer models, human volunteers, or the substitution of invertebrates for vertebrate animals. Reduction methods include improved experimental design and data sharing to avoid unnecessary experimental repetition. Refinement includes such techniques as the provision of enriching habitats for experimental animals and the use of analgesics to reduce or eliminate pain in the presence of aversive stimuli. The Basel Declaration Society offers instruction in techniques such as these to interested medical researchers. Copies of principles at work in improving animal research are available from NC3Rs here and here. "The BDS must network with the relevant national organizations," Dr. Zeller asserts, "to work toward rallying more scientists to join and help the worldwide implementation of the aims of the Basel Declaration." PETA and the BDS may never agree, but they share some goals, and together, they may succeed in reaching them.