725 Reasons Why You Don't Want to Be an Animal in a Military Lab: Pentagon Experiments under Investigation
© 1998, COREL
The $435 hammers and $640 toilet seats bought by the U.S. military in the 1980s were nothing. The Department of Defense now spends $200 million a year on experiments using hundreds of thousands of animals, often with no more than the vaguest scientific rationale. By all appearances, some Department of Defense programs have become little more than checking accounts for ivory tower research.
© 1998, PHOTODISC
In 1992 and again in 1994, PCRM doctors testified before Congress on military animal use and worked with the General Accounting Office (GAO) in its investigation of Michael Carey’s experiments at Louisiana State University. Carey had shot 700 restrained cats in the head to “model” human injuries. As a result of the investigation, Carey’s cat-shooting experiments were halted. Other labs in which animals were shot for training purposes discontinued these practices, two laboratories were forced to improve their animal care standards, and a computer tracking system was set up to monitor animal use.
The military’s new tracking system now lists 725 military experiments using animals, exposed to light for the first time. Some are patently unnecessary: military experimenters use pigs to experiment with laser tattoo removal and use rats, pigeons, and squirrel monkeys to study drug abuse. Other experiments, particularly biological and chemical weapons tests, are among the most gruesome experiments imaginable. The GAO is again investigating military animal use, and PCRM has prepared a series of reports on the experiments and rallied experts to critique them. We have found scores of military tests that kill animals and serve no realistic military purpose.
Biological and Chemical Weapons
The U.S. is a signatory to the international Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of any biological agent and requires that all stockpiles be destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes. But biological weapons tests on animals continue. Military experimenters are infecting monkeys with the smallpox virus in order to work toward “a safer, more immunogenic cell culture-derived vaccine” despite the fact that such vaccines can be developed and tested without animals. Brucellosis, anthrax, dengue fever, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, equine infectious anemia, and the filoviruses ebola and marburg are being tested in other military experiments.
These experiments are not only controversial because of the animal abuse involved. While they may appear to serve a defensive purpose, vaccine research may be intended to find ways to allow the use of chemical agents in combat or to circumvent defenses, according to some critics.
Chemical weapons are widely tested on rats, primates, pigs, rabbits, and other animals. Poison gases can damage the lungs, nerves, skin, and eyes, and cause a slow and painful death.
Such tests are as misleading as they are cruel. Animals often respond to chemical agents and antidotes differently than humans. A rat’s respiratory system differs greatly from that of a human, and rats are more susceptible to toxins because they are unable to vomit. Mice have a genetic tendency to develop lung tumors, rendering much of the research on physiological effects of exposure invalid. Regarding skin tests, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report said, “Since laboratory animals have fur and do not have sweat glands on most of their body, they do not provide optimal models for dermal exposure.”
Mustard gas, first used in World War I, continues to be a favorite agent for Department of Defense animal experimenters. Yet good treatments are already available and are easy to use. Military personnel receive a “Mark I Kit” with two self-injectable antidotes to the gas: atropine, which counteracts the effects, and pralidoxime chloride, which binds the nerve agent so it can be cleared from the body. Preventive drugs, such as benactyzine, oximes, aprophen, and physostigmine, are also commonly used. Little about these treatments has changed in the last 35 years, yet military experimenters continue to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for animal tests with the agent.
Training Programs Need Reform
Medical training is one of the largest areas of animal use in the military. Animals are used for practicing basic trauma skills and surgery, and even in basic medical school physiology and pharmacology demonstrations.
Replacing these labs is not difficult. For every animal use in training, an alternative is readily available that is both cheaper and more effective. High-quality training manikins and simulators, computer software, interactive videodiscs, and human cadavers are used throughout civilian training programs and offer significant educational advantages.
For example, to teach infant intubation—inserting a tube down the throat with the aid of a metal stylus—one military lab uses ferrets, another uses cats, and yet another uses sheep, none of whom is, in fact, a close model for humans. In adult intubation training, instructors have used primates, ferrets, and pigs. This basic trauma care procedure is performed daily in emergency rooms. It is learned using simulator manikins and cadavers. Animals are not typically used in civilian intubation training, yet military programs continue to use animals despite obvious anatomical differences. Manikins are anatomically exact, inexpensive, and can be used again and again to maintain skills over weeks and months.
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the military medical school in Bethesda, Maryland, is the only U.S. medical school that still forces students to participate in live animal laboratories, despite complaints from the House Armed Services Committee and the American Medical Student Association.
PCRM is providing research, reports, and expert opinions to the General Accounting Office, and is pushing for alternatives as aggressively as possible.