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A recently released investigation and report, led by Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), in collaboration with the Animal Protection Party of Canada (APPC), has exposed the cruel, unethical, and dangerous use of piglets for trauma training by Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND).

The report titled ‘Defenceless: Animal-Based Trauma Training in the Canadian Military’ is based on over 3,200 pages received in response to Access to Information requests by AAC to the DND, the final batch of which took nearly five years to obtain.

The investigation’s findings received front-page coverage in the Toronto Star amid calls for a ban on the military’s cruel and dangerous practice of “live tissue training,” or LTT.

Photo provided by the DND showing piglets sourced from a “local supplier.” Photo Credit: DND

How Piglets are Used During Trauma Training

The report provides the most detailed insight to date into the DND’s use of animals for military medical training and reveals that piglets as young as 10 weeks of age are exposed to:

  • Toxic nerve agents, causing seizures, irregular heartbeats, and labored breathing;
  • Radiation, implanted under the skin or applied as a liquid, causing deep tissue burns; and
  • Severe trauma, such as cutting animals’ faces, repeated stabbings, limb amputations, and disembowelment.
This photo features a U.S. Department of Defense trauma training exercise.* The procedures conducted in Canada are the same, with the addition of exposure of the piglets to radiation and chemical weapons. Photo Credit: PETA

Piglets Reviving During Traumatic Procedures

Although the DND claims piglets are anesthetized during training, its own records indicate that many revive, noting in one case that a piglet (referred to by the DND as pig 4903) began “vocalizing loudly” after being stabbed in the face, while another (pig 4520) attempted to jump off the table but continued to be used for another two hours, regardless.

Anesthesia records for piglets 4903 and 4520. Photo Credit: DND

Anesthetics Denounced as “Totally Wrong and Inexcusable”

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, an anesthesia expert and former head of the Department of Anesthesiology at Tufts Veterinary School in Boston, denounced the anesthetics listed in the DND protocols as “totally wrong and inexcusable” for such invasive procedures. One of the drugs used to treat some piglets reversed the effects of the anesthetics and revived these animals amid traumatic procedures. (Read Dr. Dodman’s full review here.)

DND Recognizes Pigs Make Poor Training Models

Not only is “live tissue training” inhumane, but it’s also downright dangerous to soldiers in combat. The DND’s own documents contain the admission that anatomical differences make pigs poor models for training medics to treat human injuries in the field. In fact, the DND acknowledges that using pigs may actually interfere with effective training by producing “training scars” in trainees who learn, for instance, how to position a breathing tube in a pig, in a way that would be an incorrect placement in a human casualty.

Slide from DND PowerPoint presentation to Canadian Armed Forces instructors, in which “live tissue” trainers are warned of the risk of “training scars” brought about by using a model with anatomy so dissimilar to humans’. Photo Credit: DND

As Robert DeMuth, M.D. and former Major in the U.S. Army, has stated: “When you treat casualties in a warzone, seconds count. The last thing a medic should have to do is waste those seconds wondering how to translate what they learned on a small pig to the wounded soldier before them. Yet that is what the Department of National Defence is preparing medics to do.”

Financial Cost

In less than five years, the DND squandered an estimated $700,000 in tax-payer funds by purchasing 884 piglets for cruel, obsolete, and inapplicable training.

Canada Among a Minority of NATO Nations That Continue to Use Animals

Recent statistics indicate that 23 of 30 NATO member nations have stopped using animals in trauma training. These countries have replaced animals with human patient simulators, so named because they accurately mimic human anatomy and physiology — they breathe, bleed, have breakable bones, and can even “die” if the trainee fails to save them, providing a much more realistic and applicable training tool.

Trauma training featuring the Surgical Cut Suit® worn by an actor. Photo Credit: Strategic Operations

Take Action to Help End Cruelty to Piglets

The continued use of piglets for trauma training by the Canadian military is cruel, unsustainably expensive, and, importantly, puts soldiers’ lives at risk by using archaic teaching methods and inapplicable animal models.

Please help bring about an end to this cruel practice by signing our letter to the Minister of National Defence asking her to commit to ensuring a transition from piglets to more advanced and authentic human patient simulators. It is within her authority to do so and is in the interests of the Canadian military to bring our country into the twenty-first century — and in line with the majority of our NATO allies.

*The U.S. Department of Defense has since widely divested itself of the use of live animals in favor of human patient simulators.

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