The History of Animal Testing – When Did it Start? (detailed timeline)

by Becky

April 18, 2021

Animal testing has existed since the beginning of medicine and has led to incredible discoveries and the creation of cures for a long list of ailments. But when did it all start and why? As cruel as this practice is, it’s also brought many scientific discoveries.

The use of animals as models in medical research isn’t a new concept. Over 26 million animals undergo lab testing in the US every year. These animals are used to determine the toxicity of medications, develop new treatments, and check for safety products intended for human, commercial, and biochemical uses.

Who invented animal testing? In this blog post, we explore the history of animal testing in detail. Here’s everything you should know.

When Did Testing on Animals Begin?

Animal dissection dates back as early as circa 500 BC. Scientists like Erasistratus, Herophilus, and Aristotle performed various experiments on animals to discover living organisms' functions.

In ancient Rome and Alexandria, scientists practiced vivisection (dissection of a living organism) on human criminals. However, prohibitions against the mutilation of the human body led them to rely solely on animal subjects.

Aristotle justified using animal subjects by saying that animals lack intelligence. Therefore, the notion of justice or injustice shouldn’t apply to them.

His successor Theophrastus has a different stand on the matter. According to him, like humans, animals feel pain. Therefore, the vivisection of animals was an inhumane act and an insult to the gods. However, despite his strong opinions, the practice continued.

In 130-200 AD, a famous Roman physician and philosopher named Galen was in the spotlight for his influential medical theories throughout Europe. Galen engaged in public vivisection of animals, including an elephant at some point, which was a popular form of entertainment at the time.

Galen is among the scientists that encouraged the vivisection of animals, and he had no sympathy whatsoever. He even encouraged his students to vivisect the animals without compassion or pity.

Between 1578 – 1657

In the years that followed, more and more scientists were making incredible discoveries thanks to their animal tests. William Harvey was among the great scientists in this era. During this period, he discovered that it’s the heart that pumps blood and not the lungs through animal testing.

René Descartes was also among the scientists of this era. He would experiment on rabbits, eels, fish, and more animals. He believed that animals are “automata” that could not experience pain or suffering.

Descartes recognized that animals could feel pain, but they are unable to experience those feelings as humans do because they lack intellect.

The 1800s and Early 1900s

Until the 19th century, there was little objection against animal testing. The increased adaptation of domestic animals in the 19th century fueled the anti-vivisection of animals movement in England. The trend led to the formation of the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection in 1875 and other similar groups.

Among the first people to respond to the movement was French psychologist Claude Bernard. He argued that animal testing is ethical because it plays a crucial role in extending human life and benefits medicine.

Queen Victoria was on the opposing side. She expressed her shock at some of the animal research practices. Soon after, the anti-vivisection campaign became even stronger. Lawmakers began taking steps towards putting an end to the practice. In 1876, Great Britain’s Cruelty to Animals Act was enforced into law.

As you can see, the debate around whether animal testing is ethical and necessary, or cruel and meaningless has been around for a long time. From a humanitarian standpoint, no one can deny that animal testing is cruel even if it has been beneficial.

If you want to get into the ethics behind animal testing, then this is the perfect article for you to read next: Animal Testing and Ethics – Everything You Need to Know

The Introduction of Humane Animal Testing Techniques

Due to the lack of alternative testing methods, animal testing continued despite the strong campaign against it. But in the year 1959, things seemed to have been moving in the right direction. Zoologist William Russel and microbiologist Rex Burch published The Principals of Humane Experimental Technique.

This book outlined the humane experimental techniques that must be used when testing on animals. The scientists referred to the techniques as the principle of the three Rs. They include:

  • Replacement: Scientists should replace the use of animals with alternative methods.
  • Reduction: Minimize the use of animals in laboratory experiments whenever possible.
  • Refinement: Reducing animal suffering and improving their living conditions.

These three Rs were incorporated in the Animal Welfare Association (AWA) and have acted as a guideline for international animal welfare laws.

Continued Use of Animal Testing in Space

When the issue of animal testing arises, most people assume scientists are the main culprits. However, animal testing is also prevalent in space. The US space program has been using animals for testing since 1948. They tested various factors, such as the effects of prolonged weightlessness.

Some of the notable animal testing practices in space include:

  • Yorick’s trip to space: In the 1940s, researchers sent several monkeys to space on crewless space flights, and none survived. Yorick was the first monkey to survive the trip but dies shortly after landing due to heat stress.
  • Laika’s earth orbit: Laika was the first dog to orbit the earth. However, the dog died early in the mission due to panic and overheating.
  • The 1998 space visit: This trip market the highest number of animals ever sent to space. More than two thousand animals, including mice, crickets, fish, rats, and snails, were launched into space for neurological testing.

The Military’s Contribution

From the time of the Vietnam War, animal testing has been prevalent in the military. In 2007 alone, over 400,000 animals were used for research and combat trauma training (live tissues training).

The training included subjecting anesthetized pigs and goats to gunshot wounds, amputations, and burns to train military medics.

In 2013, after continuous opposition from animal rights groups, Congress sent an order to the Pentagon to present a written plan to phase out this type of training. However, the US Coast Guard, which was at the center of a scandal in 2012 involving live footage of animals being mutilated for live tissue training, said in 2013 that the practice would continue.

Animal Testing in the Modern World

Over the years, there has been a lot of debate around the issue of animal testing. However, in recent times, more and more people have joined the masses opposing the practice. So far, there are significant breakthroughs that provide hope for the end of animal testing. These include:

Increased Use of In Vitro Methods

Many people were opposed to animal testing throughout history, but the practice only became more popular despite their objections. Those still using animal testing procedures argued that there were no alternatives and that the benefits far outweighed the cons.

Things started to move in the right direction in the year 2007. In a report in the same year, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences called for a reduction in animal testing, suggesting scientists shift to in vitro methods using human cells. However, targeted animals would still need to be used to complement in vitro studies for the foreseeable future.

EU Ban on Import and Sale of Animal-Tested Cosmetics

The European Union has been at the forefront of putting an end to animal testing. In March 2013, they banned the sale and import of all cosmetics containing ingredients tested on animals. This bold move has seen more and more countries follow suit.

However, most countries, including the US, are still on the fence about the issue because their primary market is China, which requires animal testing as a step for all the cosmetics that go into the country. In fact, it is the country with the highest amount of animal testing done per year in the world.

Read on here to learn: Are Cosmetics Made in China Cruelty-Free in 2021?

Knowing how your products are affected by Chinese laws can be tricky – but it’s not impossible to find cruelty-free cosmetics if you know where to look.

Wrapping Up

Animal testing has been going on for decades now. However, in recent times, it seems like things are finally moving in the right direction. With bans being imposed on these practices, scientists have been forced to develop alternative ways to carry out their research. We’re still a long way from an animal testing-free world, but we’re on the right track!

Animal Testing and Ethics – Everything You Need to Know
What Does Cruelty-Free Really Mean? (Ultimate Guide)
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}