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In response to long-running complaints from animal rights activists, Johnson & Johnson will no longer use live animals to demonstrate to sales reps how company products may be used.

The decision came after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested that the health care giant’s Ethicon unit, which markets surgical products, purportedly required sales personnel to watch procedures being performed on pigs that would be killed during the demonstrations, according to the rights group.

“The use of live animals for sales training in surgical settings has been a topic of internal discussion for quite some time,” the company’s Animal Care and Use Council wrote in an unsigned Oct. 20 email to a member of PETA’s laboratory investigations division. A J&J spokeswoman confirmed the note is authentic.

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“Johnson & Johnson as an enterprise — across our medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products businesses — has discontinued live animal use in sales training across our North America region,” the note continued. “Further, we are working to discontinue this practice globally by December 31, 2016.”

The company added that new computer simulations will be used for training and maintained that Johnson & Johnson is “committed to the ethical treatment of animals used in laboratory settings and has great respect for the value they bring in efforts to advance patient safety and well-being.”

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The decision was applauded by PETA, which has been after J&J to change its practices since 2009. In addition to public protests, the animal rights group unsuccessfully introduced a shareholder resolution in 2012 that would have required the company to eliminate the use of live animals in employee training.

“Pigs are wonderful, sensitive beings, not training tools, and there are far better ways for sales reps to learn how medical devices work in human patients,” said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s senior vice president of laboratory investigations. She pointed to advanced human-patient simulators and synthetic soft-tissue models as examples.

A spokesman for the rights group said that protracted talks had been held with the company, but did not yield much progress until a public statement was issued that took Johnson & Johnson to task for its practices.

This has been only the latest in a string of battles between animal rights activists and drug and device makers, which have been periodically pressured to eliminate the use of different animals to research their products. Three years ago, Bristol-Myers Squibb was fined by the US Department of Agriculture for the deaths of monkeys at its research facilities after PETA lodged a complaint.

The issue has also embroiled federal researchers. Last year, the US National Institutes of Health decided to retire all of its remaining research chimpanzees and relocate them to sanctuaries, effectively ending invasive research on government-owned chimps.

The success that PETA has had with J&J has emboldened the group to continue its investigations. A PETA spokesman wrote us that “we are currently researching animal-use policies at other medical devices companies. If any of these companies are using animals for sales rep training, we will press them to switch to use modern non-animal training methods.”

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