The SF SPCA advocates for the end of the use of animals in stressful or harmful medical research. However, we acknowledge that animals are currently crucial to understanding aspects of the etiology, treatment and prevention of disease and injury and support their use where no other viable options are available. We believe it is incumbent upon the research community to find alternatives that will eventually eliminate need for animals in research. Until then, researchers must follow the principles of the “Three R’s”; refinement of experimental methods to eliminate or reduce animal pain and distress; reduction of the number of animals consistent with sound experimental design; and replacement of animals with non-animal methods wherever feasible.
We further believe the Animal Welfare Act should incorporate the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare  and be amended to include all animals used in research.
It is quite probable that all of us have benefited from the medical and therapeutic advancements discovered or refined by animal experimentation. At the same time, many of us have not escaped the direct mail and news stories of horrendous animal abuse and suffering at the hands of some researchers. These disparate views make the use of animals in medical research one of the most polarizing issues in animal welfare.
Multiple surveys show that public support for the use of animals in medical research is highly dependent on three factors: the potential benefits of the research, the type of animal involved and the level of invasiveness used in the experiment. Not surprisingly, public support for animal research is contingent on the perceived necessity and significance of the research and support is higher when the animal used is a rodent or dissimilar to humans and lowest when the animal is a dog, cat or great ape. People are also more supportive of animal research if they know the experiments will not cause the animal to suffer.
For most drug trials, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) mandates the use of animal testing (pharmacology and toxicology testing) and two species (rodent and non-rodent) are required. There does not appear to be a viable alternative to animals for these types of tests.
In the U.S., the number of rodents used in research is not reported, but the Foundation for Biomedical Research puts the number at between 15-20 million per yeari. Research on non-human primates such as monkeys is far less common, but still exists, with around 65,000 being used in the US and EU, primarily for studies of infectious disease, such as HIV and hepatitis; neurological studies; behavior and cognition; reproduction; genetics; and xenotransplantation. For example, the vaccine that cured Polio was created through tests on animal hosts, including monkeys. Research on dogs and cats does exist, though it is also less common. Cats are most commonly used in neurological research while dogs, particularly beagles, are used to research cardiology, endocrinology, and bone and joint studies. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Report for 2005, 66,000 dogs were used in USDA-registered facilities in that year.
In the U.S., research animals are protected under the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) started out as the “Laboratory Animal Welfare Act” in 1966 to address the issue of owned dogs and cats being sold to laboratories for research. It focused on requiring dealers in dogs and cats for research to obtain a USDA license and abide by a set of humane requirements. The AWA has been amended numerous times and authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to set humane handling standards for guinea pigs, nonhuman primates, rabbits, and hamsters as well as dogs and cats.
Much of the basic medical research in the U.S. is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is conducted at universities, medical and veterinary schools. Medical research is also performed in private biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Every academic institution that receives funds from the NIH for animal research is required to have a committee called the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that oversees the care and compliance with animal welfare laws.
However, one of the biggest criticisms of the AWA is that it only applies to any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit or other warm-blooded animal determined by the Secretary of Agriculture that is used in research, exhibition or as a pet. The Act explicitly excludes the most commonly used animals, rats and mice, as well as birds and other farm animals used in production. However, NIH-supported facilities do provide for humane housing and treatment of rodents.