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Varying Degrees of Animal Reification by Stakeholders in Experimental Research

UMR Infectiologie et Santé Publique, INRAE & University of Tours, 37380 Nouzilly, France
UFR 10 Philosophy, Ethique Appliquée et Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale, University Paris 1 Sorbonne, 75005 Paris, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Lars Lewejohann and Rosalia Crupi
Animals 2022, 12(2), 190;
Received: 1 September 2021 / Revised: 16 November 2021 / Accepted: 11 January 2022 / Published: 13 January 2022
(This article belongs to the Section Veterinary Clinical Studies)
Several key stakeholders are involved in animal research, each with distinct responsibilities and objectives. The animal caretakers, for example, have daily contact with the animals and attend to the practical aspects of their nutrition, sanitation, and health and welfare monitoring. Research scientists can have comparatively limited contact with the animals, with their focus rather orientated towards obtaining robust experimental data. The term reification refers to the treatment of animals as objects for our own use. Amongst stakeholder in experimental research, various rationales exist that may contribute towards the reification of animals. For example, one that is potentially shared by many of the stakeholders is that the benefits of animal research (knowledge and real-life applications) outweigh the potential harms (suffering or restraining of animals). For some animal caretakers, establishing bonds with the experimental animals may be considered unprofessional. For researchers, consideration for the animals may be reduced to cases included in the experiment. Despite the potential for animal reification, it is partly mitigated in this context by the commonly held belief that animal suffering should be reduced as much as possible.
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. View Full-Text
Keywords: experimental animals; reification; animal caretaker; ethics; researchers experimental animals; reification; animal caretaker; ethics; researchers
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MDPI and ACS Style

Cabaret, J.; Fortin, L. Varying Degrees of Animal Reification by Stakeholders in Experimental Research. Animals 2022, 12, 190.

AMA Style

Cabaret J, Fortin L. Varying Degrees of Animal Reification by Stakeholders in Experimental Research. Animals. 2022; 12(2):190.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Cabaret, Jacques, and Ludivine Fortin. 2022. "Varying Degrees of Animal Reification by Stakeholders in Experimental Research" Animals 12, no. 2: 190.

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