Testing on Fish

We’ve written previously about animal testing and the potential inconsistencies relating to its ability to predict how drugs and disease will affect humans. Currently, fish make up a large portion of the animals that undergo testing; fish have started to replace mammals in scientific research settings, yet the number of fish is under reported. Fish go unreported and underreported in the US due to their exclusion from the Animal Welfare Act.  The Animal Welfare Act is a national piece of legislation that was established in 1966 and through the original document and subsequent amendments sets guidelines for the treatment of animals used in research. This covers how animals are bought and sold, environmental limitations and regulations, and requires reporting on the number of animals tested yearly. Millions upon millions of aquatic animals are tested on, most commonly zebrafish and goldfish.  Increasingly, zebrafish are being used in medical experiments that have traditionally been executed on rodents. A scientific discovery in 1988 led to the selective mutation of zebrafish, allowing researchers to use them as a model of humans. Among other components, zebrafish’s neurological structure is similar to humans.They are practical for research because they are transparent creatures and can develop outside of their mother in just three days. In fact the field of fish research is increasing rapidly, with little end in sight. Many of these tests involve the scientific and medical communities like amphetamine impact on fish, toxicity tests, tumors, vertebrate development, and physiology. Researchers at Duke University use zebrafish to help solve unique challenges with infants such a mutations or other life-affecting conditions. There are also encouraging signs that the way opioids affect their brains can be translated to helping humans who struggle with addiction. Zebrafish are expected to become the conduit to fighting abnormal diseases and furthering medicine in the 21st century.

Testing on fish doesn’t come without controversy. Norwegian scientists have recently published academic articles outlining guidelines and provisions for international testing on fish in order to ensure their safety. There is much evidence indicating that fish can feel pain, and that psychological and physical trauma may actually undermine some of the testing done on them. Another dilemma is the amount of fish used, since they number in the millions, there is a fear among animal advocates that there will be less concern for fish populations as they are so extensively used in research and depended upon by scientists. The amount of fish, among other animals, is often not reported at all in many countries due to exemptions in regulations which clouds the issue. The European Union however does cover fish in their directive on research on animals, mentioning that pain caused should not go further than that of a needle being inserted into the animal and also requires them to publicly state how many animals (including fish) are tested on, what procedures were completed, and the severity to the animal.

It is unclear whether or not regulatory bodies will catch up with the scientists and begin to regulate fish further as they become a more popular animal for discovering diseases and improving outcomes for humans. In the meantime, animal advocates seem poised to push for more rules to protect fish and create more transparency surrounding them.

Sources: American Anti-Vivisection Society, NoRecopa, About Animal Testing, PETA, National Geographic, Jerusalem Post, Popular Science Magazine, CBS News, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Humane Society, Speaking of Research