Sharp rise of 8% in UK animal experiments

Mutant mice There was an increase in mutant mice used

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The number of animal experiments carried out in the UK rose by 8% in 2012, according to Home Office figures.

The rise is due to a growth in the use of genetically modified (GM) animals.

According to the way the Home Office classifies statistics, procedures on GM animals were higher than the number on non-GM animals for the first time.

Campaigners criticised what they said was the government's failure to deliver on a post-election pledge to cut the number of procedures.

About 4.11 million scientific experiments on animals took place in 2012, an increase of 317,200 on the previous year.

The number of GM animals increased by 22%; this year saw 1.91 million genetically modified animals used compared to 1.68 million non-GM animals.

Mutant mice


Since the coalition's commitment to reduce the use of animals, the number used in research and the number of experiments has steadily continued to rise and there is no reason to believe that that trend won't continue.

I asked the head of animals in the Home Office's science regulation unit, Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, whether her department would ever be able to deliver on the coalition government's commitment to "reduce the use of animals in scientific research".

She replied: "We are reducing the use of animals in many areas and we are working on a delivery plan that will tease out what is meant by the phraseology of the commitment".

So that would be a "no". Her answer also suggests that Dr MacArthur Clark's delivery plan might backtrack from the commitment to reduce the use of animals in absolute terms and replace it with a promise to try really hard to reduce the use of animals wherever possible, which has been the policy of successive governments since 1998.

Dr MacArthur Clark also said that the Home Office believed that a "significant number" of genetically modified animals suffer mildly or hardly at all. Her unit has commissioned research to establish whether this is true. If so it would go some way to helping the department's cause because if the GM animals are removed from the figures, they would show a 2% drop in the use of animals rather than an 8% increase.

Mice were the most frequent animals used, accounting for about three-quarters, or 1.98 million procedures.

After mice, rats and fish were the most common species used. There was also a 22% increase in the use of non-human primates such as Old World Monkeys, a group which includes macaques and baboons.

The number of procedures involving animals with harmful genetic mutations rose by 13%, with mutant mice accounting for the majority.

The government report said: "The overall level of scientific procedures is determined by a number of factors, including the economic climate and global trends in scientific endeavour.

"In recent years, while many types of research have declined or even ended, the advent of modern scientific techniques has opened up new research areas, with genetically modified animals, mainly mice, often being required to support these areas."

Lord Taylor, minister for criminal information, said that the government "provides a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research" which is "an ambitious but achievable goal".

He added: "We recognise that the use of animals in scientific research is a small but essential function in improving our understanding of medical and physiological conditions, the research and development of new medicines and the development of leading edge medical technologies and is necessary to ensure the safety of our environment."

'Broken promise'

In 2010, the coalition government pledged to promote higher standards of animal welfare.

They stated: "We will end the testing of household products on animals and work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research."

Referring to this pledge, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (Buav) said the continued rise in testing amounted to "a broken promise".

Michelle Thew, chief executive of Buav, commented: "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.

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

'Essential part'

Dominic Wells from the Royal Veterinary College said: "We are in an era of developing treatments for rare diseases in a way that we could not have predicted five years ago. We are the victims of our own success and this has inevitably led to the use of more animals."

Dr Ted Bianco, acting director of the Wellcome Trust, said that 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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I’ve always disagreed with animal testing epically for cosmetic reasons.
    We’ve come along far enough now to know what chemicals are going into some eye shadow without needing to test!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    If any of those reading remarks supporting animal testing were in fact animals themselves, I wonder, would they still be in favour?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I have had numerous health problems, including an implant which keeps me alive. I still think that toilet and cosmetic products tested on animals is a disgraceful practice - utterly sickening to think that people just buy these things without a thought. Creatures have shampoo rubbed in their eyes, injected in their blood stream and force fed so that they can sell "new improved" products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    "..each year drugs that were passed safe in animal tests are withdrawn after causing serious side-effects..Recent examples include Vioxx–the animal-tested arthritis drug–was reported to have caused up to 140K heart attacks and strokes before being withdrawn-the TGN1412 (‘elephant man’ drug) disaster that left 6 men with organ failure after tests on monkeys failed to predict these effects."

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I can see the need for experimenting on animals with medicines and helpful drugs, but making monkeys smoke cigarettes is just plain cruel. I thought this sort of behaviour was eradicated years ago when the beagles were all set free

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #28 To buy a GM mouse will cost £300+ . These don't come from pet shops you know! They're bred to an incredibly high level, guaranteed pathogen free. All research animals get checked by a vet at least weekly. Anyone claiming its done to SAVE money hasn't a clue what they're talking about.

    Plus to get a licence you have to prove theres no none-animal option first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Why make a distinction between humans and animals? Humans ARE animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Good. Everything should be done to minimise unnecessary suffering, however this increase reflects the incredible steps forwards in medical research.

    Let's shut the animal rights people up for good; a petition whereby every 100 signatures the number of animals used in research is decreased by 1%, but by signing you remove all rights to anymedical treatment tested on animals (almost everything).

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    People may be hard against it but when they are given the choice of medication for some disease take it rather then risk death. Just down to survival instinct- the basic function of all animals including us humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Imagine your doctor is saying "I'm sorry, you have a life-threatening illness". If you can say, hand on heart your response would be "I don't want any treatment, doc" then you are against animal testing. Otherwise you are just a hypocrite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I'd rather give up meat than give up animal testing. And I really love meat.

    I am slightly concerned at the people saying animal testing is wrong, and should be replaced by human testing... isn't that the mark of a psychopath?
    Anyway, if you are an animal-lover (and not just because of meat), take solace in the fact that animal testing also helps veterinary science too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    People who really object should vote with their wallets and not use products that have been tested on animals. Personally, as someone with MS, with a dad who had successful cancer treatment, a friend being treated for a brain tumour, I know which way I vote. Michelle Thew says "millions of animals continue to suffer and die in our laboratories", and "millions" of humans benefit. I've seen it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    As cruel as it seems, we have to do it. We need to do this for our own safety.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Mice will eventually save the world... mice like the Biker Mice from Mars came from genetic testing. We need these mice to fend off evil intergalatic aliens in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    A drop in the ocean to the amount of animals slaughtered every day so the average human can wipe the grease from his lips.

    Most humans are two-faced - have they been secretly modified too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Utterly disgusting - this is corporate greed. With what we now know about DNA means animal experimentation should be a thing of the past but proper research using what we already know costs billions (one off), whereas a monkey cost £60 and a mouse nothing. Whilst greed is involved these poor animals will continue to lead a life of abject misery !

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Also for people who are suggesting we use criminals and undesirables for this, please even don't joke about that. The Nuremberg Code exists for a reason, the scientists involved were hung. It's a slippery slope that no reputable scientist ever wants to go near again because it turns the people conducting the experiments into monsters without fellow human feeling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Well it's a hell of a lot better than testing on humans. I'm quite happy for animal testing to go ahead as long as there is no needless cruelty. This is one of those topics where I believe it to be necessary; but I'm happier with the less I know about it, out of sight, out of mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I can only assume that most (myself included) tacitly condone animal testing through the products we buy and services we use.

    Nevertheless, this breaks my heart to see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    What!! the Cons keeping a pledge-you must be joking.If it makes them money for their own use then all pledges can take a running jump.This will enhance their stocks and shares so don't expect them to keep a pre-election pledge.


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