Law and Society

Animal Cruelty and Testing during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Robert war has said, “We are the moving graves of those animals which were killed for our tongue, for our wearing, for our cosmetics.”

Introduction:

Animal cruelty refers to the deliberate execution of action with the main purpose of causing the animal discomfort and distress for human benefit. Most people are of the opinion that there is nothing inherently wrong in using animals for their skin, tusks, horns, and by-products at the cost of animal’s well-being.

There are different forms in which animal cruelty has been carried out. They are slaughterhouses, animal testing, fishing, etc. Pets are also subjected to the worst fields of animal cruelty. Pet abuse can happen in several different ways. Dogfighting is a hobby for entertaining people and making money. Puppy mills are dog-breeding places that carry out operations in which earnings are put above the animals’ well-being. Monkeys, Elephants, and many other animals are used in entertaining houses. Hoarding animals is also a form of abuse as it leads to the negligent handling of animals. Broadly, animal abuse can be categorized into two types, that is, passive abuse and active abuse. Passive abuse often involves incidents of animal abuse, such as insufficient shelter, dehydration, hunger, and so on. Active abuse, on the other hand, means hurting the animal purposely for our benefit. This involves animals being beaten, whipped, and branded, which often results in their death.

Statistics and studies reveal that every 60 seconds an animal suffers abuse and 65% of them are dogs. Every year 10 million animals die from abuse in the US only. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, in India, over 24,000 animal abuse cases were reported from 2012-2015.

To protect animals from harm and abuse, several countries have enacted laws to protect the rights and interests of the animals. Switzerland, Hongkong, Germany, and the UK have the most stringent laws. On the contrary, India does not efficiently implement laws that protect against animal abuse. India, in 1960, had passed the Animal Cruelty Act which in Section 11 (1) (a) to (o) states that the offender is liable to pay a minimum fine of Rs.10 and a maximum fine of Rs.50. The laws which have been enacted in our country for the security and welfare of animals, given the meagre fines prescribed, are inefficient and toothless, and are neither proportional to the severity of the offences committed nor are enough to deter such infractions. There is no match for the severity or degree of the penalties prescribed by these rules. There have been several instances where the opposition from the parliament has demanded amendments and stricter laws for animal cruelty but in vain.

Rethinking the approach towards Animal Laws in India:

PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), an animal organization that opposes speciesism and animal abuse, had previously urged the Central Government on finding alternatives to vivisections (dissection of live animals for teaching purposes at under-grad and postgraduate levels). An alternative to this can save the lives of 19 million animals in India every year, but most of the premium institutes continue to use the same old method. Besides, India, in 1972, had passed the Wildlife Protection Act to protect wildlife animals, birds, and plants from illegal trafficking. This legislation is filled with loopholes and lacks an integrated approach to wildlife trade and trafficking across India. The concern over illegal trade in biodiversity is not expressed in the Wildlife Conservation Act, which is specifically meant to protect indigenous species, and does not include provisions covering imported species that could be trafficked through India. This coupled with the weak implementation of laws and the abuse of official machinery continues to thrive unabated in India’s wildlife trade.

Animal Testing During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

In the United States laboratories, for medical training, curiosity-driven experimentation, and chemical, medicine, nutritional, and cosmetics testing, more than 100 million animals, including rodents, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, primates, fish, and birds, are killed each year. Some are forced to inhale poisonous gases until their deaths, others are immobilized for hours in restraining systems, some have holes drilled into their skulls, and some have their flesh burned off and their skin melted off or their spinal cords crushed. Approximately 9,000 monkeys, 150 chimpanzees, and 133 human volunteers have been used thus far in the quantitative studies of various characteristics of different strains of poliovirus.

The SARS-CoV-2, popularly known as the Coronavirus or COVID-19, is an unprecedented global health challenge the world is facing currently. The only way out of this pandemic is by developing a vaccine. The WHO (World Health Organization) has stated that currently 172 economies are engaged in developing this vaccine. Scientists and health researchers around the world have been involved in finding a cure for COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines like Pfizer, BioNTech, Bharat Biotech, AstraZeneca, and PiCoVacc have undergone animal testing whereby animals with identical biology and antigenicity are injected with the antibodies, and if they successfully clear animal trials then the vaccine will be introduced for a human trial. The number of animals used for vaccine creation is horrifying.

It is estimated that over 10 million animals have been killed while finding a cure for the virus. Besides, it is also being estimated that around half a million sharks would be killed for the COVID-19 virus as sharks contain natural oils called ‘squalene’. This natural oil is used as an ingredient to improve the productivity of the vaccine by developing a better immune system. Likewise, Australian researchers have been using sheep protein to develop the vaccine. The antibodies present in sheep protein will be purified and then used in the vaccine. Mice, especially, are being bred for COVID-19 vaccine purposes. The vaccine has still not been found, and this paves way for a reasonable understanding that more and more animals will be subjected to torture and unethical testing.

Studies have proven time and again that animal experiments do not lead to improving human health, and in most medical advancements, the importance of the role that animal experimentation plays is unclear. In an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers noticed that medical therapies produced in animals barely applied to humans, and cautioned that “patients and physicians should be careful to extrapolate the results of influential animal testing to the care of human illness, which should be expected to be inadequate reproduction of even high-quality animal studies”. Further, it also revealed that 95 out of 100 drugs that clear animal trials fail in human trials. Furthermore, animal testing is unethical and for a university experimenter to keep riding the grant gravy train, the world does not require another ridiculous, taxpayer-funded test on animals.

Conclusion:

Animal cruelty is a serious issue and can be tackled by discussions and raising awareness about the rights possessed by animals. Humans should be considerate and compassionate towards animals. The focus must shift from human dominance to co-existence. Pet owners should be responsible for their duty, if animal abuse is being witnessed then it needs to be reported. The legislature should not only make stringent laws but also efficiently implement them. Children should be educated to be front-runners in protecting animal rights.

An alternative to animal testing is the need for the hour. Unlike the 19th and 20th centuries, today, there exist a plethora of technological developments that facilitate the humane treatment of animals.  Human volunteer research, sophisticated computational methods, and in vitro human cell and tissue-based studies are crucial to the advancement of medicine. Cutting-edge methods of non-animal research are available and have been shown to be more accurate than crude animal experiments over and over again. In recent years, progress has been achieved in reducing and replacing the number of animals used for preclinical vaccine research through the use of bioinformatics and computer biology to design new candidates for vaccines. The number of animals subjected to such research and violence would see a positive decline if these practices are being included and enforced on a large scale, thereby improving the efficacy of the course of treatment.

ENDNOTES:

  1. Francis S. Collins- Animals Are Not Ours. https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/animals-used-experimentation-factsheets/animal-experiments-overview/
  2. Animal Study proved Covid Vaccines Efficacy (September 12, 2020).   https://health.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/pharma/animal-study-proved-covid-vaccines-efficacy-bharat-biotech/78077080
  3. Arlene Weintraub- Pfizer, BioNTech reports ‘strong’ immune response in animals to COVID_19 mRNA vaccine candidate. (September 09, 2020). https://www.fiercebiotech.com/research/pfizer-biontech-report-strong-immune-response-animals-to-covid-19-mrna-vaccine-candidate https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/oxford-university-s-candidate-for-coronavirus-vaccine-fails-animal-tests-120052000978_1.html
  4. Gong Zhe- First COVID-19 vaccine test on animals successful. (May 07, 2020). https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-05-07/First-COVID-19-vaccine-test-on-animals-successful-Qi8WFGpvY4/index.html
  5. COVID-19: Difficult trade-offs in AstraZeneca vaccine development. https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-difficult-trade-offs-in-astrazeneca-vaccine-development/a-55421164 
  6. Animal Abuse Statistics and Facts. https://petpedia.co/animal-abuse-statistics/#
  7. Over 24,00 Animal Cruelty cases reported in the last 3 years: Govt (May 03, 2016).  https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/over-24-000-animal-cruelty-cases-reported-in-last-3-yrs-govt-16050300930_1.html
  8. The Prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/biodiversity/Environ_sys/legis/aniact.htm#:
  9. Aarti Dhar- Dissection ban will save 19 million animals every year. (July 31, 2016). https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dissection-ban-will-save-19-million-animals-every-year/
  10. Deccan Herald (October 1 2020). “Half a million sharks may be killed for COVID-19 vaccines”. https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/half-a-million-sharks-may-be-killed-for-covid-19-vaccines
  11. World Health Organization (24 August 2020). “172 Countries and multiple candidate vaccines engaged in COVID-19 vaccine Global Access Facility. https://www.who.int/news/item/24-08-2020-172-countries-and-multiple-candidate-vaccines-engaged-in-covid-19-vaccine-global-access-facility
  12. http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical-advances/timeline/polio-vaccine-developed/
  13. Los Angeles times (June 2 2020). “How animals are helping scientists develop COVID-19 vaccines. https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-06-02/how-animals-are-helping-scientists-develop-covid-19-vaccines
  14. Medical Research Council. “Impact of Animal research in the COVID-19 response. https://mrc.ukri.org/research/research-involving-animals/impact-of-animal-research-in-the-covid-19-response/

This post is authored by Gouri Mahabalshetti, who is a first-year student at Christ University.

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