Between 2004 and 2013, the number of tests conducted using genetically modified animals in Germany nearly tripled, according to reports by Funke Mediengruppe, citing a study by research group Testbiotech, which investigates the “consequences of genetic engineering”.
In total nearly 950,000 animals, mainly mice and rats, were genetically tested in 2013 alone – one third of all animals on which scientific testing was conducted during that year in Germany.
“The massive increase in animal testing for genetic engineering is unacceptable,” said Green Party animal protection spokeswoman Nicole Maisch to newspapers owned by the Funke Mediengruppe.
“Especially if the medical benefits are very questionable, or the testing already turns out to not be successful, we should not torment animals further,” she added.
Maisch said that officials must find alternative methods for testing without animals.
This revelation has angered members of the Green Party in the Bundestag (German parliament), who say that such tests result in pain for the animals, high death rates, and such experiments have not shown enough progress to merit such methods.
“It has already been shown with new genetic engineering processes in plants that they [researchers] start with making big promises, and then cannot fulfil them,” said Green Party genetic testing spokesman Harald Eber.
Most genetic testing of animals is part of basic research, or research aimed at improving scientific theories. In the area of drug discovery and development, animal testing plays a minor role.
But research on pigs for organ donation over the past 10 years, for example, has often not found results that can be applied to humans, the Testbiotech study states.
Animals may be tested with diseases like cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer’s, and would experience great pain.
“They are artificially made to be sick,” said study leader Christoph Then.
Genetic testers: 'Still vital for research'
But other experts in genetic engineering defended the experiments as still very important for science.
“Genetic testing on animals is still vital for research,” said Johannes Beckers of the Institute for Experimental Genetics. “If you have the opportunity to use other methods, we do.”
Mice, for example, are important to study because “95 percent of their genes are the same as those of humans,” he explained.
“We are still finding new biological processes, which are often the basis for curing diseases. Today there are no newly approved drugs that came about without the help of animal experiments.
“In the 1980s, AIDS patients had a life expectancy of one year. Now it is a treatable, chronic disease,” he added.