Assessing Animal Suffering
In the United Kingdom (UK), animal suffering must be assessed according to a specific scale. Project licenses are granted after careful consideration of the research aims, location of the research, company or organisation performing the research, track record, type of animal required and the anticipated level of suffering. However, this level is essentially an educated 'guess,' although it is based on similar experimentation and the anticipated suffering based on our current knowledge of anatomy, pain and science in general. The UK has some of the most stringent animal testing regulations in the world, which serve to safeguard the scientific community, general public and most importantly, the animals that receive testing.
Scale Used for Assessing Animal Suffering
The UK uses a specific scale for assessing animal suffering during experimentation. Animal suffering is assessed according to a scale of:
Mild procedures generally involve little or no pain and could include a simple biopsy or a small sample of urine or blood. Animals may also receive a minor change in their diet but overall, are generally not deviating from their normal state of health to any significant degree. Moderate levels of pain are just as the name implies - moderate given that animals do experience some pain and a certain level of invasiveness is required during experimentation. Substantial assessments of pain involve significant discomfort or pain to the animal. Where possible and assuming no interactions with the drug tested, anaesthetic is used or pain relievers will be administered to ease the animal's pain. Unfortunately, this level will involve a great deal of pain for those animals that - for various experimental reasons - are unable to receive anaesthetic. Those animals that undergo experimentation in the substantial category will deviate from their normal state of health and wellness to such a degree that they are typically killed following their use in the experiment.
Unclassified experiments are named as such because the animal essentially does not experience any suffering at all. Animals are given anaesthetic prior to experimentation and are then killed before ever waking up. While an animal in a substantial category may receive anaesthetic, the category differs from the unclassified category because the animal will wake up and further experimentation or observation occurs before the animal is killed. The moderate category thus far remains the most dominant one for most project classifications. Fortunately, approximately two percent of all projects are classified as substantial, which means that significant suffering does not occur in the majority of animals who are used for testing.
Criticisms of Animal Suffering Assessments
The UK scale for animal suffering assessments has drawn criticism for several reasons. One qualm with the scale is that despite is being specific relative to standards in other areas of the world, it could still be fine-tuned even more to provide a more accurate assessment of animal suffering. Another major criticism is that companies will downplay the projected level of suffering to gain a moderate assessment when the level is much more aligned with the substantial classification. The reason for this deceit is that it is a much more onerous process to gain a license for experimentation with a substantial classification as opposed to a moderate one. Still others argue that the suffering can vary throughout the experiment, which means that classifications are not necessarily reflective of the animal's suffering, thereby rendering the current system inaccurate.
One possible way to address the criticisms is to increase transparency and accountability in those who conduct animal testing. This means that there should be consequences that are clear to those who are seeking a project license should they provide false information, particularly regarding the anticipated level of animal suffering. Hopefully, this will ensure that the assessments of animal suffering accomplish their intended goals, which is to accurately assess animal suffering and ensure that those conducting research take all measures to follow protocol and minimise animal suffering to the fullest extent possible.