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Ethology and laboratory animal welfare A better way. Review of Laboratory Animal Husbandry Ethology Welfare and Experimental Variables by Michael W. Fox. Albany State University of New York Press 1986 218 pp $39

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American Journal of Primatology 14:189-192 (1988)
Ethology and Laboratory Animal Welfare: A Better Way
Review of Laboratory Animal Husbandry: Ethology, Mlfare and Experimental Variables, by
Michael W. Fox. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1986,218 pp, $39.50.
Michael W, Fox is a veterinarian and ethologist who is well known for his
criticism of many currently accepted animal husbandry practices, such as factory
farming of food animals, cosmetic surgery on pets or show animals, and the use of
animal subjects to train students in surgical techniques. In this volume, Fox offers
a strong critique of current practices in laboratory animal science on scientific,
humane, and ethical grounds, without espousing a total ban on the use of animals
in biomedical research. In the introduction and first chapter, Fox charges that the
paucity of ethological studies of laboratory animals and the inadequate characterization of the environmental histories of experimental subjects reflect a lack of training
and interest in the behavior and psychology of laboratory animals by laboratory
scientists. In a frequently recurring theme, he notes that many scientists hold a
Cartesian or mechanistic view of animals, leading to reductionistic research paradigms that ignore the social, emotional, and environmental influences on health and
disease in their experimental subjects. By establishing the relevance of ethological
studies of laboratory animals and by showing that the behavioral and psychological
well being of laboratory animals is equally important on both scientific and humane
grounds, Fox hopes to stimulate interest and concern for laboratory animals and
encourage applied research that will improve the care and quality of animals used
in biomedical research. Moreover, such research should reduce the number of animals needed and enhance the validity of research findings derived from animal
Chapter 2 is a discussion of caging standards and spatial requirements that
points out that, in many cases, standards are set arbitrarily and are often based
more on economic considerations than on scientific knowledge of the animals’needs.
Fox goes on to describe studies documenting the often unpredictable effects of a host
of environmental variables, including a) temperature; b) illumination (intensity,
wave length, photoperiod, gradual and sudden changes); c) circadian rhythms (temperature, lighting, feeding schedules, cleaning and handling schedules, etc.); d) diet
(nutritional adequacy, effects on intestinal flora, contaminants or toxins, recycling
of nutrients, ingested drugs or test substances through coprophagy, effects of overnutrition such as obesity, increased incidence of tumors and other diseases, and
numerous behavioral effects); e) ventilation and air quality in both cage and room;
f) bedding (tactile qualities, absorbent qualities, manipulative potential, contaminants or toxins contained in bedding material, etc.); and g) other substrate variables
(musculoskeletal effects, contaminants or toxins). In Chapter 3, Fox continues the
0 1988 Alan R. Liss, Inc.
190 I Alford
litany of variables that may be inadvertently introduced into experiments, including
the effects of transportation, restraint, handling, treatment, frequency of cage cleaning, weaning age, population density, and isolation. In Chapters 4 and 5, he notes
some possible effects of varying degrees of social contact with conspecifics on the
behavior and responses of experimental animal subjects. In Chapter 6, he emphasizes the importance of socializing andlor habituating laboratory animals to the
people interacting with them. Fox characterizes the effects of social deprivation and
isolation (ie, confinement and decreased environmental complexity) as 1)immediate
effects on previously social and/or free-ranging animals, 2) long-term effects, and 3)
emergence effects as the animal is either returned to a social group or introduced to
more complex or social environments for the first time. For more comprehensive
reviews of the effects of captivity on nonhuman primates, see Erwin et a1 [1979] and
Capitanio [1986]. In Chapter 7, the extreme importance of the environment is
strongly emphasized, and the interaction between genotype and environment to
produce the phenotype of a n experimental subject is carefully discussed.
In Chapters 2 through 7, Fox lists numerous detrimental effects of confinement
and laboratory conditions on the welfare of laboratory animals and on the validity
of experimental results. In Chapter 9, he offers convincing evidence and arguments
to show the sentience of animals, and he argues that, under given conditions,
animals may suffer more than adult humans because, without reason to understand,
control, or anticipate the end of unpleasant experimental procedures or conditions,
animals may reach a severely depressed state. In addition, animals isolated from
conspecifics and not socialized to people have no source of consolation for mediating
perceptions of pain and distress.
A number of alternatives and improvements t o current practices are provided
in Chapter 8, including a) carefully designing ethological experiments to determine
the normal physiological processes, needs, and behaviors that have been intensified,
suppressed, or otherwise altered by the laboratory environment; b) administering a
series of preference tests and carefully evaluating any resulting improvements to
the environments of laboratory animals; c) giving the animals tasks to perform and
providing rewards for correct responding, thereby offering the animal some control
over its environment; d) where feasible, housing animals in groups within seminaturalistic environments; e) preconditioning animals in order to ease the transition
to experimental conditions; and f) using purpose-bred laboratory animals rather
than random-source or feral animals. The latter suggestion presents a paradoxical
problem with perhaps no satisfactory solution. Fox has noted that the restrictive
conditions of laboratory rearing typically produce animals that are poorly adaptable
and ill-equipped to tolerate changes encountered when subjected to experimental
protocols. In order to increase adaptability and reduce stress, he recommends rearing
these animals in enriched environments that provide socialization to both conspecifics and people. Fox gives as one major reason for recommending the use of purposebred animals for laboratory research the assertion that random-source animals, such
as pound dogs (former pets), are likely to experience greater distress due to the
isolation and confinement of the experimental situation. However, is not the socialized, laboratory-bred animals, reared in an enrichment environment, likely to suffer
similarly from this transition? The difficulties encountered by Novak and Meyer
[1986] and Line [1987] when attempting to address environmental enrichment and
psychological well being in laboratory primates suggest that Fox may be overly
sanguine in predicting that these approaches will reduce the number of animals
used in research.
Fox offers a massive literature survey, citing more than 450 references in the
reference list or in footnotes within the text. Despite the large number of references,
however, there are occasionally undocumented or opinionated statements, some of a
Ethology and Laboratory Animal Welfare I 191
startling or controversial nature such as his assertion that “primates sometimes
become more difficult to handle when a female caretaker or researcher is menstruating.” Also, investigators trying to go to the original source of cited references may
have some difficulty due to several inaccurate citations.
In the final two chapters and the appendices, Fox discusses additional ethical
and philosophical considerations that are partly compilations of earlier articles or
speeches. There is some redundancy in the last sections as well as in the earlier
chapters. Also, some of the material is outdated in that several suggestions on the
regulation of animal welfare have been or are being implemented. However, some
very important concepts are discussed. Fox grants natural or moral rights to animals
on the basis of their telos and their sentience; he grants moral rights to animals
even though they are not morally autonomous beings capable of understanding the
consequences of their actions. They do not possess the rationale exhibited by incapacitated or preverbal humans who are, nevertheless, granted moral rights. Yet
while advocating equal consideration for animal rights with those of people, he also
states that “it is important to recognize that this does not necessarily imply equal
treatment nor that the interests of the animal are accorded the same weight or
value as essential human interests. This provides the ethical basis for determining
when the killing or harming of an animal is morally justifiable.” He argues that
animals should not be harmed or deprived unless such treatment is essential to the
fundamental welfare of human beings or other animals. As Burke [1986] pointed
out, this type of argument places researchers in the uncomfortable position of
justifying their use of animals as a necesary evil. Cohen [1986] and Michael Allen
Fox [1986],both philosophers, do not grant moral rights to animals because nonhuman animals are not morally autonomous beings capable of comprehending their
correspondingobligations. Rights are granted to preverbal or incapacitatedhumans
through their inclusion in the human moral community. Cohen continues the argument by pointing out that by considering moral distinctions between humans and
animals and by utilitarian calculation of past and future benefits for humans
and animals, biomedical researchers have a positive moral duty to continue to
use animals for their research.
Fox would disallow on ethical grounds those studies designed to gain inessential
comforts, economic benefits or “knowledge for its own sake” (italics mine). Most
scientists would strongly disagree with these restrictions, especially the last, for it
is seldom that scientists can predict the ultimate applicability of their work. It is in
the nature of science that applicable discoveries are preceded by many small units
of knowledge gained painstakingly through basic research, or through research for
knowledge’s sake.
Ultimately, even though humane treatment is mandated by law and those laws
defining humane treatment are continually refined and enforced more vigorously,
the quality of animal care and experimentation depends on the day-to-day choices,
actions, and interactions of scientists, veterinarians, and animal care personnel.
Each scientist must choose the extent to which animals are used for individual
studies; this is an extension of the choices forced by daily living. This volume is a
“consciousness raising” guide to a large portion of the scientific and philosophical
literature on welfare of laboratory animals and, as such, is useful to the scientist
wishing to make thoughtful choices.
Patricia L. Alford
The University of Texas System Cancer Center
Veterinary Resources Division, Science Park
Bastrop, Texas
192 I Alford
Burke, R.E. The ethics of animal research
Two views. THE SCIENTIST 1(1):19-22,
Capitanio, J.P. Behavioral pathology, pp 411454 in COMPARATIVE PRIMATE BIOLOGY, VOL. 2A, BEHAVIOR, CONSERVATION, AND ECOLOGY, G. Mitchell; J.
Erwin; eds. New York, Alan R. Liss, 1986.
Cohen, C. The case for the use of animals in
biomedical research. NEW ENGLAND
Erwin, J.; Maple, T.L.; Mitchell, G., eds.
Nostrand Reinhold, 1979.
University of California Press, 1986.
Line, S.W. Environmental enrichment for
laboratory primates. JOURNAL OF THE
ASSOCIATION 190:854-859,1987.
Novak, M.A.; Meyer, J.S. What we don't
know about lab animals. THE SCIENTIST
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