TEL AVIV - Animal testing is big business, and animal rights supporters charge that academic and private enterprise market representatives on the National Council on Animal Experimentation are working together to support these economic interests.
Harlan Sprague Dawley Inc., a U.S.-based company that supplies research lab animals, including stocks of mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits, cats, dogs, and the cages they are held in, has numerous branches worldwide, including in Israel. In 2003, Harlan generated more than USD 130 million dollars in revenues.
The first director of Harlan's Israeli branch was Prof. Asher Meshorer, who was concurrently director of Weizmann Institute's animal testing unit and headed the council’s subcommittee on alternatives to animal experimentation.
As subcommittee head, he supported the council’s decision to approve alternatives only after they have been adopted in the U.S., Japan, and Europe.
"We tried to get Japan off the list, because it is lagging behind when it comes to alternatives, but the NCAE did not comply," said Anat Refuah of the Israeli Society for Abolition of Vivisection.
Council member Ehud Peleg, who is also a legal advisor to Noach and whose petition to the High Court in 1990 helped pave the way for the enactment of the Animal Protection Law, said conflicts of interest affected Meshorer's decisions.
‘Money is the motive’
"It is unfathomable that the person in charge of approving alternatives to animal testing was the same person who would profit from an increase in animal testing," he said.
Meshorer resigned from the council in 1999, but was replaced by Dr. Roni Kalman, who at the time was also a Harlan director.
The Society for Ethical Science turned to the Health Ministry and filed a complaint to the police, and Kalman resigned from the council in 2001.
Refuah said both men still influence the council’s decisions, or lack thereof.
"They have created a lobby within the council," she said. "They still have enough clout to prevent the NCAE from approving any alternatives."
Research labs not only spend money on "products" such as those offered by Harlan, they also benefit financially from the animal testing industry.
Council member Elad Feigin, one of its few members from an animal rights group, said animal testing continues although there is no proof of its efficiency, because researchers are measured by the grants they are able to obtain.
"Money is the motive. It is simply a characteristic of a capitalist society," he said. "There is nothing substantial in animal-based research, it is just a house of cards held up by a lot of money."
He said the State Comptroller report that criticized the council recently made accurate accusations against the council, but nothing would result from it.
"Politicians are fond of professors and feel obligated to support their research endeavors," he said. "Also, there is a clear connection between politics and industry, so even if the NCAE seriously attempts to supervise and restrict experiments on animals, it will be a futile effort."