Zemanova MA, Knight A, Lybæk S. Educational use of animals in Europe indicates a reluctance to implement alternatives. ALTEX. 2021;38(3):490-506

PMID: 33837436


Animals have been considered an indispensable tool to teach about the functioning of living organisms, to obtain skills necessary for practicing human and veterinary medicine, as well as for acquiring skills for caring for and conducting experiments on animals in laboratories. However, the efficacy of this practice has been questioned in recent decades, and societal views have evolved to place a much stronger emphasis on animal welfare and ethics that needs to be reflected in our teaching and training practices. Currently, many alternatives to harmful animal use are available, and it is not clear why thousands of animals continue to be used every year for educational and training purposes. Therefore, this study aimed to identify reasons for the lack of uptake of non-harmful educational and training methods by analyzing recently published non-technical summaries in the EU and EEA Member States and to provide examples of alternatives for specific learning objectives. Results from non-technical summaries from 18 countries spanning the most recent years (2017-2019) revealed that the two main perceived reasons for continued animal use are: 1) the necessity to use a living animal for “proper” learning and 2) the lack of an adequate alternative. We argue that these reasons often do not reflect reality. In conclusion, we consider it is necessary to place a stronger emphasis on engagement with ethical questions that underlie the use of animals and careful consideration of how the learning objectives could be achieved through non-harmful alternatives.