Number of Animals Used in Testing in Israel Spiked 51 Percent Last Year

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Illustration: A mouse in a lab.Credit: Bloomberg
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Research was conducted on over 507,000 animals in Israel in 2016, an increase of 51 percent over 2015.

Most of the rise was the result of exponential growth in the number of fish used in experiments, to more than 178,000 in 2016 from just 12,000 in the previous year. There was also a significant increase in research involving livestock, including poultry and goats, sheep, pigs and cows, as well as other mammals.

Some two-thirds of the animals used in experiments were put to death after the research was concluded, with most of the remainder either returned to farms or, in a much smaller number of cases, rehabilitated and set free. According to a report issued by the Health Ministry’s National Council for Animal Experimentation, around 45 percent of the research conducted on animals in Israel last year involved the maximum degree of suffering allowed by law.

The law requires the use of the least-developed animal possible for the specific experiment being conducted, explained Prof. Jacob Gopas, the chairman of the National Council for Animal Experimentation, in a conversation to Haaretz.

“If it’s possible to use fish, you don’t use mice, for example, and if it’s possible to use mice then you don’t use pigs,” Gopas says. Both the move toward using fish rather than mice in experiments and the efforts being made to raise fish with as few diseases as possible have contributed to the spike in the number of fish being used. Gopas notes that the vast majority of the fish used in research, 154,000 of the 178,000 that were used last year, were returned to their previous habitats.

According to the council, which supervises animal research in Israel, around 99 percent of the animals used in studies in 2016 were on the lower end of the developmental scale: 59 percent were mice, rats and other rodents; 35.5 percent were fish and other cold-blooded animals including salamanders, frogs and snakes; chickens and other birds accounted for 4.4 percent of the total.

Only around 1 percent of the research subjects were more developed animals, most of them larger mammals: 2,259 cows, 1,670 pigs, 748 rabbits, 397 sheep, 365 bats, 2017 goats, 46 monkeys (the largest number used in animal research in a decade), 12 horses and one camel. No experiments were conducting used dogs or cats last year.

Nearly all of the rodents, birds and cold-blooded animals were put to death after the research was completed, as were all of the pigs and most of the rabbits and the sheep. All of the cows, however, as well as most of the bats, goats and fish were returned to their habits. Of 12 monkeys that were used in studies that were completed, seven were put to death and five are undergoing rehabilitation.

The council took pains to emphasize that 88 percent of the large animals were rehabilitated: “The rehabilitation rates for [research animals] in Israel are exceptional by any standard, and Israel has for years been a leader in this field in comparison to published data from throughout the world,” the council said.

Last year, 3,135 research projects involving animals were carried out in Israel last year. Nearly half of the studies involved the highest- or second-highest level of suffering to the animals, at 14 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Similar to previous years, around 90 percent of the studies involving animal experimentation last year were evenly divided between medical research and other scientific research, while around 9 percent were for the testing or manufacture of materials or products and slight over 1 percent for educational purposes.

The Health Ministry points out that in 2013, a research fund was established for the purpose of allocating grants for the development of alternatives to animal experiments. The fund has supported nine such projects so far.

More than 1,900 new permits for experiments involving animals were issued in 2016. Around 91 percent of all permit applications were approved as-is or after additional discussion followed by changes, with the remainder either rejected or still pending.

Tamir Lousky, the scientific advisor of the Israeli Society for the Abolition of Vivisection, said in response to the report that “apart from reporting the statistics, the National Council for Animal Experimentation is not doing its job, and instead of introducing advanced alternatives [to animal research] that meet the standards in Europe or even the United States, it ... enables the number of experiments and amount of suffering to increase every year.” He called for the establishment of a government committee of inquiry to study the issue, for the purpose of making changes “to protect the animals from the vested interests” on the council.

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