Animal Testing Plummeted in 2018 Due to Sharp Decline in Fish Experiments

Some 45 percent of all experiments on animals were classified as involving the maximal level of pain and 14 percent involved significant pain or suffering without alleviation, or led to death

File photo: Fish near the moshav of Hazeva, southern Israel, 2017.
Eyal Toueg

The number of experiments on animals in Israel decreased by two-thirds in 2018 due to a sharp decline in testing on fish, according to a report issued by Health Ministry's National Council for Animal Experimentation on Monday.

In 2018, some 429,000 animals were used in experiments, down from 1.2 million in 2017, while 75,000 fish were used last year, compared with 887,000 in 2017, an unusually high number, the report said.

Furthermore, out of the 3,223 projects involving animals in 2018, 46 percent were scientific, 43 were healthcare-related and 10 were used in testing materials and objects.

Almost three-quarters, or 71 percent, of the test animals were rodents: 229,000 of them were used last year, down from 317,000 in 2017. Most of these were mice (262,000), but there were also 35,000 rats, 453 gerbils, 106 molerats, 112 guinea pigs, 45 jirds, and 139 rodents called spiny mice.

Of the total number of animals used for testing in 2018, 22 percent were cold-blooded: 94,000 fish compared with 887,000 in 2017. In addition, 575 frogs, 30 tortoises and 14 snakes were used in experiments the same year.

Pigs used for research in Kibbutz Lahav, southern Israel.
Tomer Appelbaum

Moreover, 6 percent were birds, numbering altogether 27,000, including about 25,000 chickens, 1,389 turkeys, 60 pigeons, 33 sunbirds, 30 parrots, 13 owls and 3 falcons.

Use of monkeys fell dipped from 35 in 2017 to 29 in 2018 and 46 in 2016.

As far as mammals are concerned, 13,729 cows, 648 pigs, 1,458 rabbits, 404 sheep, 150 goats, 12 horses and one camel were used in experiments in 2018. These figures are not significantly changed from the year before.

Some 45 percent of all the experiments on animals were classified as involving the maximal level of pain (from 1 to 5, set by the committee), and 14 percent involved significant pain or suffering without alleviation, or led to death. A third was defined as experiments causing moderate to severe pain or pressure and were treated with painkillers.

Some 380,000 of the animals were killed after the experiment and only 22,000 were let go into nature or returned to the herd.

In 2018 the National Council for Animal Experimentation granted 1,692 permits to use animal testing.  About a third were approved right away but most required multiple discussions by the council, which usually required amendments to the original requests. Only 18 percent were rejected or not yet approved.

The report states that the animals chosen for research should be of the lowest form of life (on the developmental scale), while still meeting the needs of the research.

The Health Ministry stressed that in 2013, it set up a research fund promoting studies of alternatives to animal studies. So far the fund has financed 12 projects designed to reduce or eliminate the use of animals without constraining the research or its output.