How much does animal testing cost?
About the funding of animal experiments and non-animal methods
More than 99% of biomedical research funding is used for animal experiments
Our tax money is funding animal experiments, whether we like it or not – we are not asked what the taxes we pay is being used for. There are no exact figures on how much money from the Federal States, the German Government, and the European Union is being spent for animal research. There are no statistics on this – at least no public ones. Neither is there an overview of public money made available for non-animal research that does not use animals. We have been publishing an overview on funding for almost 20 years, in order to shed light on
The whole system of animal experiments is based on concealment, and this is of course also the case when it comes to its funding. It is only possible to estimate roughly, based on some indications, how much money is spent on animal experiments and non-animal technologies every year. When we started to create an overview almost 20 years ago, “alternatives”* were funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with around four million euros annually money that was given by some Federal States, namely € 200,000 annually from the State of Baden-Württemberg. In addition, some prizes are granted irregularly by different foundations. In order to give an impression of the dimensions of animal research funding, we also collected the costs for new laboratory buildings in a list.
* "Alternatives" and the 3R concept
We put the term "alternative" in quotation marks because it includes real non-animal methods but also so called 3R methods. The 3Rs stand for "Replace", "Reduce", and "Refine". This concept, established more than 60 years ago by two British scientists, is based on the assumption that animal experiments are per se a suitable method that might be improved by replacing animal experiments with systems incapable or less capable of suffering, by reducing the number of animals, or by refining the general framework, e.g. decreasing the suffering of the animals. This concept does not envisage a complete end of animal experiments. For Doctors Against Animal Experiments, reduction and refinement are out of the question. Animal experiments are in general not a suitable means in research and are also ethically wrong.
"Replacement" should also be viewed critically, as it implies that animal experiments are in principle a suitable method for medical research that only needs to be replaced in order to achieve results relevant to humans. However, we do not need a mere replacement, i.e. a modification of a wrong system, but a comprehensive paradigm shift in medicine and research, a complete system change leading us away from archaic animal testing as the standard towards a modern, human-based science. In contrast to animal experiments, animal-free methods, such as human organoids and multi-organ chips, are scientifically sound and give results relevant to humans.
Funding of "alternatives" increases
The good news is that the funding of "alternatives" has increased enormously in the past 20 years. Several federal states award regular grants and prizes. In addition, some federal states fund individual 3R projects*, usually for several years. For our overview, we converted individual grants to annual costs. For example, the state of Hesse is funding a 3R professorship at the University of Frankfurt with € 1 million for 5 years, so the annual amount for our overview would be € 200,000. In this way, we calculated a total of around € 29 million going into 3R or "alternative" research.
The bad news is that public money going into animal experiments is increasing, too. In the early 2000s, the cost for a new animal research lab was usually in the single-digit millions. In more recent years, this has often turned into higher double-digit millions. To illustrate: the new animal laboratory at Jena University cost € 5.4 million in 2002 and in 2003, the University of Bielefeld built a new animal lab for € 3.3 million. In 2021, however, the laboratory animal facility IMITATE at the University of Freiburg cost € 57 million and the planned animal facility in Augsburg will cost € 35 million.
Animal research funded with at least € 4.2 billion
In order to be able to provide a minimum sum for the funding of animal research, we have used the budgets of the biological-medical departments of the largest research funding organizations in Germany. The budget of the relevant research fields of the German Research Foundation (DFG) was € 1.42 billion in 2019 (total budget € 3.3 billion). We identified 73 of the 167 departments of the Max Planck Society (MPG) as carrying out animal experiments. Their budget amounts to € 1.07 billion (total budget € 2.5 billion). Both institutions are funded almost entirely from taxpayers' money. Also included in the calculation are the annual budgets of some state-funded animal experimentation institutions such as the German Primate Centre in Göttingen (€ 21.3 million) or the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg (€ 23.5 million).
On the other hand, there is a generously calculated sum of approx. € 29.8 million for 3R research*. Shockingly, the small funds made available for this field are not only used for animal-free research, but often for refinement or reduction programmes, which ultimately serve to further entrench animal experiments. For example, the state of Hesse funded a 3R professorship with a focus on "refinement" with € 1 million. An unknown amount of money for refinement, reduction and possibly double counting must therefore be deducted from the € 29 million that we calculated.
All in all, this shows that less than 1% of public funding from the federal and state governments goes into non-animal research while over 99% go into animal-based research – a scandalous ratio.
Total lack of transparency
Asking the federal government for figures on the funding of non-animal research has generated more or less the same answer for years, namely that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) "has funded almost 600 projects since 1980 within the framework of the funding priority 'alternative methods for animal experiments' with a total funding amount of more than € 190 million” (1). On average, this means € 4.75 million per year. In addition, the BMBF lists the support of the “Set Foundation“ (Foundation for the promotion of alternate and complementary methods to reduce animal experiments), the animal protection research prize of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the operation of the Bf3R Centre (formerly ZEBET) with € 1.5 million annually. Apparently, the federal government is proud of these tiny amounts. There is no official information about the cost of animal testing available.
Marginal funding on EU level
In a study (2) published in the journal ALTEX, the "alternative" funding of the EU member states was compared with the respective budgets for research and development (R+D). Of course, this does not provide any information about how much money was used for animal experiments, but it shows the enormous discrepancy between the total R+D budget and the marginal amounts for "alternatives". What is alarming is that Germany is coming off quite well compared to other EU countries. Half of the then 27 Member States did not provide any information. Five countries (Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Spain, and the Czech Republic) didn’t spend any money at all on non-animal research. The remaining 7 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Great Britain, Austria, and Sweden) spent a total of € 18.7 million, which is 0.036% of the total budget for research and development in these countries. Germany is second after Great Britain (at that time still a member of the EU). With a total budget of around € 73 billion, the study calculates a percentage of 0.068% for Germany in 2013.
Concrete steps in the U.S.
There is a severe lack of transparency regarding lab animal statistics in the USA. Mice and rats - the animals most commonly used in laboratories – but also fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are not considered animals and are thus not included in the official animal experiment statistics. One estimate is that approximately $29 billion is spent annually on animal experiments in biomedical and agricultural sciences in the United States (3). A gigantic sum!
Nevertheless, there have been really positive developments in recent years. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would reduce funding for experiments on mammals by 30 percent by 2025 and eliminate them entirely by 2035 (4). Furthermore, in 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started a strategic collaboration with Emulate, one of the largest developers and manufacturers of multi-organ chips, to evaluate the safety, efficacy, and mechanisms of action of drugs in organ chips (5). Although the bulk of public funding in the United States is still spent on animal research, the country is taking concrete steps toward non-animal research.
The FDA Modernization Act 2.0 which was passed in the USA in December 2022, allows pharmaceutical companies to test compounds with non-animal models before clinical trials. Under this new law animal testing can still be used, but non-animal testing methods now also represent a legitimate option.
Overall, it can be said that the funding of non-animal research is making slight progress in Germany, although it is still less than 1% of the funding that goes into animal experiments. However, there is no paradigm shift in sight when it comes to funding of animal research.
29 November 2022
Dr. med. vet. Corina Gericke
Dr. rer. nat. Dilyana Filipova
- Antwort der Bundesregierung auf Kleine Anfrage vom 1.4.2020, Drucksache 19/18520
- Taylor K. EU member state government contribution to alternative methods. ALTEX 2014; 31(2):215-218
- Keen J. Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change. Brill 2019:244–272
- U.S. EPA to eliminate all mammal testing by 2035. Science, 10.9.2019
- FDA partnership to apply lung chips to safety evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. ALTEX 17.11.2020