Switzerland could be the first country to ban animal testing

White mouse in a plastic box, animal news
A mouse in a plastic box, University of Zurich, Switzerland, February 7, 2022, photo: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

Switzerland votes Sunday on a ban on medical testing on animals. Animal rights groups got enough support for a referendum in the country, which could make Switzerland the first country in the world to ban animal testing.

In 2020, more than 550,000 mice, rats, cats, dogs, monkeys, horses, cows, pigs, fish and birds were killed during and after laboratory experiments in Switzerland.

Around 20,000 animals a year undergo severe interventions, such as the implantation of a tumour, according to authorities.

“Animals should not suffer for the sake of humans, it’s simple,” said Renato Werndli, a doctor who launched the initiative under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

“Animal experiments for scientific reasons are very questionable and lead to volatile results. Using animals as instruments is difficult because they have moods, emotions, a psyche,” he said.

Werndli said research methods such as biochips with cell and organ cultures, computer simulations or microdosing of humans were more effective than animal testing.

The pharmaceuticals sector in the country warned that if the ban would pass, companies and researchers would move abroad.

“I think to be an example for the world, Switzerland should not move away from animal experiments, but rather be very transparent, inform the public what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we are doing it,” Maries van den Broek of the University of Zurich said. Her research to fight cancer includes implanting tumours into mice.

The referendum’s result will be binding, but so far, it’s not expected to pass: the latest opinion polls show 26% of voters in favour of a ban and 68% against it.

Switzerland has already rejected three initiatives on the subject: in 1985 (70 percent), 1992 (56 percent) and 1993 (72 percent).

“Animals that are experimented on cannot fight for themselves, and we must help them,” Werndli said. “We will again try to convince the voters if we lose. But I still hope there will be a surprise.”

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