ANIMALS IN EDUCATION

Frequently Asked Questions: Education

How many animals are used for dissection exercises in the United States every year?

Which animal species are most commonly used in classroom dissection exercises?

Where do animal specimens used in dissection exercises come from?

Does the collection of animals from the wild for dissection purposes have an impact on the environment?

What are student choice laws and policies?

Is the practice of animal dissection for education common around the world?

What are some non-animal alternatives to dissection exercises?

Is there any economic benefit to using non-animal alternatives?

Are there any other benefits to using non-animal alternatives?

With so many different kinds of non-animal alternatives available, why do many biology teachers continue to support dissection?




How many animals are used for dissection exercises in the United States every year?

Statistics on the number and species of animals used for dissection are not maintained in the U.S., and estimates on the number of animals used in education are decades old. Some sources suggest the number of animals used for dissection exercises annually in the U.S. is around six million, while others have estimated that 10-12 million animals are used for this purpose every year, but no one really knows for certain.
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Which animal species are most commonly used in classroom dissection exercises?

According to a nationwide survey of biology teachers and students conducted by NAVS in 2014, frogs, fetal pigs and earthworms are the most commonly used animals in dissection exercises. It was apparent from our survey that a wide range of animals continue to be dissected in pre-college science classes, as you can see below:

Prevalance of Animals Commonly Used as Dissection Specimens in Pre-College Biology Education

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Where do animal specimens used in dissection exercises come from?

Animals that become specimens for dissection exercises come from a variety of sources.

Frogs, the most commonly used animals for dissection exercises, are caught from the wild and are killed specifically for biological study. Fishermen catch sharks and fish and sell their once-living bodies to biological supply companies who profit by selling the animals as dissection specimens.

Cats and dogs that are used as dissection specimens are obtained from animal shelters after the animals have been euthanized. Fetal pigs are obtained as by-products of the meat industry—they are removed from the bodies of their pregnant mothers at the slaughterhouse and later used as dissection specimens.
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Does the collection of animals from the wild for dissection purposes have an impact on the environment?

The collection of animals from the wild can cause an imbalance in local ecosystems and reduce biodiversity, the variety of life, in our environment. Collection of frogs to be used as dissection specimens has depleted many local populations, leading some areas to outlaw their commercial harvesting.

Also, many are concerned about the environmental risks that come from preserving and discarding animal specimens used in dissection exercises. Formaldehyde, a chemical commonly used in the preservation process, is considered to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), in addition to being an air and water pollutant.
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What are student choice laws and policies?

Student choice laws protect the rights of students who refuse to participate in a dissection exercise based on their moral beliefs. These laws ensure that students who request a non-animal alternative are provided one without jeopardizing their grade. For a more detailed explanation of the difference between laws and policies, click here. For a listing of states that have passed student choice laws and policies, click here.
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Is the practice of animal dissection for education common around the world?

While dissection is prevalent in the U.S., it is not practiced globally, as schools in five countries — Argentina, Israel, the Netherlands, Slovak Republic and Switzerland — do not conduct dissections, and the practice is rare or being phased out in other countries, including England, Germany, Sweden and India.
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What are some non-animal alternatives to dissection exercises?

Innovative technology has produced a wide range of non-animal alternatives that teach students valuable skills while they learn about anatomy and physiology. Teachers who currently use dissection alternatives find web-based programs and other interactive computer-based programs to be useful teaching tools. There are also a multitude of other dissection alternatives available, ranging from anatomical diagrams to complex three-dimensional models of many species that illustrate anatomical features in remarkable detail. All of these materials are available and suitable for students from kindergarten through the post-graduate level.
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Is there any economic benefit to using non-animal alternatives?

In these days of budget cuts and teachers being asked to do more with less, non-animal alternatives to dissection should be welcomed by school districts because they offer an incredible cost savings compared to traditional dissection. Many web-based dissection alternatives are free or available for a nominal fee. A one-time purchase of interactive CDs or three-dimensional models is less costly than purchasing dissection specimens annually. A more comprehensive breakdown on how alternatives save money is available on our website.
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Are there any other benefits to using non-animal alternatives?

Yes. In addition to cost savings and being effective learning tools, biology teachers reported that the use of dissection alternatives saves valuable time because there is less preparation required, no clean up and no mess. Many educators found that alternatives were easy to use and that students were more willing to complete the exercise with dissection alternatives than with animal specimens. The use of non-animal alternatives also gives teachers the opportunity to discuss the value of animal life with their students and talk about the significance of humane education and the “3Rs” principle (reduction, refinement and replacement of animal use). And, there is no odor or risk of injury from a sharp scalpel with dissection alternatives!
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With so many different kinds of non-animal alternatives available, why do many biology teachers continue to support dissection?

It could be because biology educators are not adequately informed about dissection alternatives. A nationwide survey of biology educators that NAVS conducted in 2014 revealed that nearly 6 out of 10 teachers felt that information about dissection alternatives is not widely disseminated. Many educators hold on to the belief that dissection is the best way to teach anatomy and/or physiology, even though numerous studies have shown that students using non-animal alternatives have been found to perform as well as or better than students using animal models. There is no question that the practice of dissection in biology education is considered to be an important tradition and an exciting experience by many biology educators. But being a “tradition” or “exciting” is no justification for continuing an outdated and wasteful practice, considering the unnecessary harm to countless animals and the many innovative alternatives available today.
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