Varying Degrees of Animal Reification by Stakeholders in Experimental Research

Animals (Basel). 2022 Jan 13;12(2):190. doi: 10.3390/ani12020190.


The attitude towards animals in research depends on both the role of the stakeholder and their personal characteristics. Most studies on the subject have been carried out on stakeholders from biomedical research institutes with comparatively few sociological studies on stakeholders from agricultural research centers. Previous findings suggest that animal caretakers at agricultural research centers felt undervalued by the hierarchy, and that animal reification was present in the sector. This may indicate that a lack of consideration for the animal subjects correlates with an inadequate sensitivity towards humans. Since these findings were published twenty years ago, there has been an increasing emphasis on the importance and actions of ethics committees in research, animal welfare bodies, and public concern for animals, which may have impacted the current perspective. To better understand current degrees of animal reification amongst stakeholders of agricultural research, we conducted semi-directive interviews at a leading agricultural research institute in France (INRAE). The interviews targeted both animal caretakers and researchers who were involved in the study of infectious diseases in livestock, or the behavior of horses and quails. After having transcribed the recorded interviews into text, semi-automatized analyses were carried out to categorize them into distinct groups, from which the most characteristic words and sentences were extracted. Three groups of stakeholders were identified: (i) animal caretakers involved in invasive infectious disease research; (ii) animal caretakers involved in behavioral research; and (iii) researchers. The findings show that animal caretakers felt acknowledged by their hierarchy. It is possible the increased skill criteria for people recruited into this position over the years, combined with greater prospects for continuous learning and development in the profession, may have fostered a more respectful regard across the hierarchy. The animal caretakers clearly expressed that their primary objective was to successfully execute the research protocols and that the animals were viewed as prototypes for research, with which they could, on occasion, develop a bond with. The bond was more important for animal caretakers involved in behavioral studies than for those involved in the study of infectious diseases, where invasive biological sampling and restraining of the animals is required. Researchers prioritized the procurement of robust data to test hypotheses, analyze phenomena, and publish their results. Their concern for the animals rather reflected the views of the general public opposed to thought-out personal opinions on the matter; this is possibly due to their comparatively limited interaction with the animals. They considered the animals in abstract terms that were indicative of reification. This study concludes that animal reification is still present, albeit to varying degrees amongst the stakeholders.

Keywords: animal caretaker; ethics; experimental animals; reification; researchers.