Switzerland could become the first country in the world to completely ban animal testing if a referendum held this Sunday receives enough support.
Around 80 organizations support the citizens’ initiative, which animal rights activists say is long overdue.
“Animals don’t have to suffer for humans, it’s simple,” says Renato Werndli, a doctor from northeastern Switzerland who initiated the referendum under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.
“Our opponents said it was necessary for scientific reasons, but we talked to people who develop research methods, and they came to a completely different conclusion.”
But the Swiss government and the country’s strong pharmaceutical industry are strongly against the ban.
The researchers warn that a ban on animal testing – which would be binding – could prevent the development of new drugs and hinder future medical research in Switzerland.
They also argue that animal testing is already tightly regulated under a law passed in 2008. This forces scientists to prove that there is no other alternative to animal testing and that such tests are not cruel.
“I think there are people who think that all animal experiments are pointless,” says Maries van den Broek, vice-dean for research at the University of Zurich.
She believes that the questions scientists answer using animal experimentation help them advance medical research. Van den Broek also claims that there is no cruelty involved in animal testing in the country.
“We have very strict rules on how to treat an animal,” she explains.
“We are very certain that we avoid pain and stress as much as possible. We certainly do not torture mice, and we have certain ways of killing them, it’s like putting them to sleep, like your veterinarian would do with your pets. company. So it’s absolutely not cruel.”
The ban put to a people’s vote on Sunday also includes testing on humans, and scientists say it goes too far.
“It would be like putting the handbrake, a complete stop in fact, on many areas of research in our country,” said Samia Hurst, a bioethicist at the University of Geneva.
“But that would put an end to these searches only in Switzerland,” she added.
What is the extent of animal testing in Switzerland?
The number of animal experiments in Switzerland has steadily decreased in recent years, country data shows. From nearly two million in the early 1980s, that number has now dropped to an average of 600,000 each year.
More than 550,000 animals still died in lab tests in 2020, however, including 400,000 mice and rats, nearly 4,600 dogs, 1,500 cats and 1,600 horses. Primates, cows, pigs, fish and birds were also killed during and after the experiments.
Most of the experiments in the country are conducted by companies and universities.
Is Switzerland likely to introduce the ban?
Swiss voters have already been called three times to vote on the issue. The first time in 1985, 70% of people were against it, in 1992, 56% were against it, then again in 1993, when 72% opposed it.
And public opinion metrics suggest the ban is unlikely to pass this time around either. According to the latest polls, only 26% of Swiss are in favor of stopping animal testing.