‘Shocking increase’ in animal experiments

Author: By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Statistics released today by the Home Office showed that the number of
experiments involving animals that were started in 2008 also rose by about
14 per cent to just under 3.7 million “procedures”, an increase
that closely matched the total number of animals used. This represents a 39
per cent increase in animals experiments since Labour came to power in 1997.

The number of animals used in experiments had begun to fall in the 1990s but
in the past decade it has increased steadily each year largely due to the
rise in the number of genetically modified mice used in biomedical research.
Last year’s increase in the number of animal experiments was the biggest for
more than two decades.

Lord West, the Home Office minister responsible for regulating animal
research, said that an overall increase in the amount of biomedical research
carried out in Britain largely explains why there has been such a large rise
in the number of animals used in experiments as well as the increase in

“Today’s statistics show an increase in the number of procedures being
undertaken, and the overall level of scientific procedures is determined by
a number of factors, including the economic climate and global trends in
scientific endeavour,” Lord West said.

“As the regulator we ensure that a proper balance between animal welfare
and scientific advancement is maintained, and that the regulatory system is
effective, efficient and impartial,” he said.

Mice, rats and other rodents accounted for the vast majority of the animals
used in 2008 – some 77 per cent of the total. There was a 9 per cent
increase in the use of mice compared to 2007, but much of the overall
increase in the number of animals was due to an 85 per cent increase in the
use of fish, which rose by 278,000.

“The increased use of mice was associated with fundamental biological
research, applied studies for human medicine or dentistry and breeding. But
this increase was partly accounted for by a change in the stage of
development at which fish fry were counted,” says the Home Office
report Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals Great Britain

Other animal groups that also experienced significant increases in
experimentation included amphibians, up 15,000 (a rise of 81 per cent),
pigs, up 3,600 (114 per cent), sheep, up 3,100 (9 per cent), turkeys, up
1,500 (135 per cent) and ferrets, up 680 (154 per cent). The number of
macaque monkeys used in research also rose by 1,050, an increase of 33 per
cent on the previous year.

Animal rights groups condemned the increases on the grounds that they
represent a betrayal of the avowed promise by the Government to reduce the
amount of animal suffering in scientific research by a policy of replacing,
reducing and refining animal experiments wherever possible.

“Such a shocking increase in animal experiments should be a wake-up call
moment for policy makers that considerably more effort must be focused on
the development of alternatives [to animals] in biomedical research,”
said Sebastian Farnaud, science director of the Dr Hadwen Trust charity.

“[This is] not simply to avoid animal suffering but crucially so that
medical research can benefit from the advantages that non-animal approaches
can bring,” Dr Farnaud said.

Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of
Vivisection, said: “This shocking rise in the numbers of animals
subjected to experiments is an outrage. This is the seventh year of
consecutive rises in the number of animals used. There is clear public
concern on this issue.”

However, Simon Festing, executive director of Understanding Animal Research,
said that the increases show that Britain is doing more and better research
to find solutions to serious diseases. “This is a continuation of the
trend which saw funding of biomedical research increase in real terms by
over 50 per cent in the decade to 2006, while animal procedures increased by
just 12.5 per cent over the same period,” he said.

A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceuticals Industry said
that the increase in animal experiments was in large part down to the
success of the scientific community in Britain. Due to it being recognised
as among the best in the world, investment within academia and within
industry is going up, he said.

“In 2006, spending on R&D was just under £4bn and by 2007 that figure
had risen by 14.7 per cent to around £4.5bn. This is more than ever before.
Consequently, there is a related rise in animal research, but the rate is
not like-for-like – it is smaller due to all the work being carried out to
reduce the need for animal research,” he said.

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