After animal rights activists garnered enough support to hold a referendum in the nation, which has a large pharmaceuticals industry, Switzerland voting on whether to become the first country to entirely prohibit medical testing on animals.
According to official figures, more than 550,000 animals perished in laboratory experiments in Switzerland in 2020. 400,000 mice and rats, over 4,600 dogs, 1,500 cats, and 1,600 horses make up the total. During and after the studies, primates, cows, pigs, fish, and birds were also slaughtered.
“It’s cruel and unnecessary to experiment on animals and I am certain we can develop medicines without it,” stated Renato Werndli, a doctor from northeast Switzerland who launched the initiative under the Swiss system of direct democracy.
The referendum’s outcome will be legally binding.
The prohibition is unlikely to succeed, much to the satisfaction of the pharmaceutical industry, which has warned that it will put a stop to new medication development and compel businesses and researchers to flee overseas.
“We should not exploit animals for our own selfish ends,” Werndli said, adding that research methods like biochips, computer simulations, and human microdosing were more successful than animal experimentation.
Interpharma, a lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry, claims that the industry, which includes businesses like Roche and Novartis (NOVN.S), contributes 9% to the Swiss economy, including indirect impacts, and accounts for over half of Swiss exports.
Interpharma has led the industry’s resistance, claiming that if the ideas are implemented, they will be disastrous.
“Drug research, clinical studies in hospitals and basic research at universities… would no longer be possible,” said Interpharma CEO Rene Buholzer.
Animal testing bans, according to pharma executives, might spell the end of new medicine development.
“I think you’ve seen in the times of Covid how important it is to discover new vaccines, how important new drugs are. And they have been tested on animals,” stated Jean-Paul Clozel, Idorsia (IDIA.S) Chief Executive.
Maries van den Broek of the University of Zurich studies ways to improve mice’s immune systems to fight cancer by implanting tumors into them.
“Because we don’t understand even 10% of the processes going on inside a tumour, it is impossible to use computer models or cell culture to understand the complex biology of cancer,” she added.
Before beginning an animal experiment, scientists must demonstrate that there is no other option and that their study is critical.
“We use around 750 mice per year. They all die at the end of the experiment, but there is no alternative… Without this particular experiment, we wouldn’t be able to develop treatments that save human lives,” she said.
According to recent polls, just 26% of respondents support a ban, while 68 percent oppose it.
Switzerland holds referendums four times a year, with voters last year approving same-sex marriage and supporting the government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Werndli said the campaign has raised awareness of the situation of laboratory animals and that he was optimistic about its success.
“I hope we can eventually change and Switzerland can be a positive example to the rest of the world to help stop animal suffering,” he said.
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