UK Animal Testing Up By 8%, Monkey Tests Rise By Almost One Quarter

Animal welfare groups have accused the government of breaking its promise over animal testing after figures revealed an 8% rise in the number of experiments performed in the UK.

The figures for last year, released by the Home Office, include a 22% increase in the number of procedures involving monkeys.

Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said: "The Government has failed for a third year on its post-election pledge to work to reduce the number of animal experiments and, as a result, millions of animals continue to suffer and die in our laboratories.

Members of the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protest outside the Home Office (file photo)

"This lack of progress is completely unacceptable. We need to see meaningful and lasting changes for animals in laboratories."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), echoed the remarks, and denounced the "industrial-scale" breeding of GM animals, many of which were genetically programmed to suffer painful defects.

It said: "The Government must keep its promise to reduce the number of animals used in experiments. We want animals out of laboratories and cutting-edge replacements in."

Four million licensed procedures were started in the UK in 2012 - 317,200 more than there were in 2011.

Most of the increase was due to the creation of genetically modified (GM) animal "models" which accounted for around half the total.

The Home Office, which regulates animal testing, insisted that experiments on living creatures are only conducted when absolutely necessary and suffering is kept to a minimum.

Humane Society International (HSI) claimed Government spending on finding alternatives to animal testing remained "woefully inadequate", amounting to just 66p for every animal used in a UK laboratory.

The organisation said: "Despite a Government pledge to reduce animal experiments and repeated claims that animals are only used when absolutely necessary, millions of mice, monkeys, rabbits, fish, dogs and other animals still suffer in UK laboratories. The excuse that this level of animal use benefits medical research is wearing thin. "

A breakdown of the statistics showed a sharp 14% rise in the number of procedures involving sheep, equalling the increase for laboratory mice.

More than seven hundred old and new world monkeys were used in 3,000 experiments, increasing the number of non-human primate tests by 22%. The vast majority of these procedures involved medical and dental research.

For several species there were significant falls in testing rates. Procedures involving rabbits fell by 10%, fish by 11% and pigs by 22%.

Home Office minister Lord Taylor said Britain had "one of the world's most rigorous systems" to ensure animal testing was strictly controlled and only conducted when there was no other alternative.

A new European directive on animal research introduced to standardise regulations had led to a further strengthening of legislation.

Lord Taylor added: "We are now maintaining our high standards of welfare and animal protection without unnecessary bureaucracy and securing our competitiveness in this important area of science."

Animal testing is regulated under the 1986 Animals Scientific Procedures Act which sets out the conditions under which it is allowed.

Scientists are required to take account of the "3Rs" measures to "replace, reduce and refine" animal use in laboratories.

Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, which is funded by 110 scientific organisations, said: "The statistics that have been published today reflect an increase in the use of genetically-manipulated mice to study gene function and act as models for the rare and complicated diseases for which we still don't have effective treatments..

"A huge amount of scientific, medical and veterinary research is done without the use of animals - and indeed it is illegal to use an animal if an alternative can be used instead - but in some cases we still need to use animals if we want to find the medical and veterinary treatments of tomorrow."

Dr Ted Bianco, acting director of the Wellcome Trust, the UK's biggest research charity, said: "The scientific community is deeply committed to reducing the numbers of animals used in research, but despite significant progress, animals remain an essential part of helping us understand disease and develop much-needed new treatments.

"This year's increase reflects the use of powerful techniques to help us model with greater accuracy human disease. In particular, the inclusion of genetically-modified mice, whose breeding alone counts as a procedure, is largely behind this increase, but will ultimately allow us to reduce the number of animals used."

Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (APBI), said: "Animal research plays a key role in bio-medical research, helping us to better understand and improve the treatment of diseases in humans and animals.

"The increase in the number of animals used and in the procedures carried out should be seen in the context that such research has contributed to many of the medical advances we now take for granted.

"We have all benefited from vaccines and antibiotics developed to prevent and treat infections, and anaesthetics used in all forms of surgery."

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) which investigates alternatives to animal experiments, said: "The headline figures do not highlight the significant advances in recent years to develop new approaches to replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in research.

"The NC3Rs is working at the heart of the international scientific community to fund and drive reductions in animal use and implement advances in welfare practice.

"Our success can be demonstrated across many research areas including diabetes, epilepsy, veterinary vaccines, pesticide development and research using non-human primates. This work cannot be achieved overnight, but depends on a concerted effort to bring about a culture-shift in how science is practised."