Latest government figures show a big rise in the number of animal experiments, but this is underpinned by an increase in investment in research
The number of animal experiments carried out in the UK last year topped 3.5 million, representing a 14 percent increase on the year before. However, industry claims this is a result of greater investment in R&D, and the fact that increasing amounts medical research is now being carried out into complex diseases.
“Because the UK is recognized as among the best in the world, investment within academia and industry is going up,” claimed a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. “The advance of science has led to new classes of medicines that target disease with much greater accuracy. Most research is still done traditionally in test tubes, but this accuracy means new medicines have to be tested in the final stages on animals that are much closer to humans to show that they work and they are safe.”
The bare numbers are now back at the level they were in 1988, and more than three-quarters of the tests are on rodents. The figures show a dramatic increase in the use of fish – an 85 percent rise since 2007 – as a result of the growing reliance on zebrafish in early research. Many mice and fish are used simply to breed better models of serious illnesses such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, or to replace higher animals such as monkeys or dogs, according to UK pressure group Understanding Animal Research.
Home Office minister Lord West stressed that tests are only allowed to take place when there is no option and can be justified.
“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. “Advances with non-animal test methods continue to be made, but at present licensed animal use remains essential to develop improved healthcare technologies.”
However, Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, condemned the increase.
“This shocking rise in the numbers of animals subjected to experiments is an outrage,” she said. “The UK claims to have the tightest regulation animal testing in the world, but it is clear that this is empty rhetoric. We should be leading the way in reducing animal testing. Unfortunately, these latest statistics show there is a long way to go.”