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 103.


    There are extremely detailed records kept on all animal testing and all the informetion is published and you are welcome to take a look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    What is it that people think us Researchers do all day, snip up animals for the fun of it?

    Nobody likes this aspect to our work, but if we want to save lives, (both human and animal) this is the only option available in many studies.

    Using animal models is extremely costly and is always avoided where possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I am alive because of animal research on warfarin. I don't like harming animals, but limiting animal research just means that the research performed on humans will be less informed and therefore more dangerous. This year 638,000 patients enrolled in medical trials in the UK alone (BBC 24 May), yet we rarely hear of fatal outcomes. This is because the basic science is done in animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    When it comes to cruelty to animals people stay silent on HALAL meat but get hysterical if it can cure cancer or get a decent mascarra or something.
    The hypocracy is amazing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    What use is all this experimentation on GM animals? Can we have the work during the experimentation put on film please so we can all be informed of what is really going on. Why do the government seem unable to do as promised? I think the public who care deserve an answer to these questions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    87. megmcb "animal welfare is always in consideration"
    What, even when a GM rat is force-fed to 'obesity' then cut open in order to have a gastric bypass performed on it, before being euthanised and dissected? My late wife (like many WLS patients) suffered incredible pain from this vile operation but at least she could tell someone about it and be given painkillers. An animal has no such ability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    69. Gratters. It is against the law to use an animal if there is an alternative. And animals are the most expensive research option. And the most complex thing ever modelled in a computer was one kind of single cell. You have been watching too much NCIS.

    If you read the article again you'll discover the mice are being bred to discover how your "DNA model" actually works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    If you're arguing using criminals as lab rats as opposed to animals - I have news for you - Your argument is invalid. To say that we should use people - who are paying for their crimes - makes you no better than those pedophiles and murderers you're so inclined to allow experimentation on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Like it or not, medicines have to be tested before they can be released to the general public. There's always a risk when you introduce a drug into your body, and testing attempts to minimise that risk. If you can't test on animals or human beings, what do you do? You're damned either way. Cosmetic testing is clearly immoral, but medicinal testing can benefit humans and animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    We don't test for cosmetics in the uk, also information between labs on effects and information are published and shared, so less animals as possible can be used. we discovered the genome of life through animal testing on mice, then on humans. If your child or pet needed a live saving medicine, that was tested on animals; would you let them die? I don't think so? Go to a lab and get educated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    53.IanS - "Rating system not working correctly. Just clicked positive for 47 and it it went from -2 to -5. Come on BBC, make this work properly"

    It is working properly! This comes up a couple of times most weeks
    Could it be that while you were reading #47, four people Rated it -ve
    It would only 'refresh' for you when you entered your +ve rating.
    - 4 +1 = -3, hence the move from -2 to -5

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Re. 85 David H

    I'm kidding no-one, unlike vivisectionists !

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    Aww hunny, I build satellites.

    If your PhD was not in a biological science and you have never properly researched the current (not from the 60s) use or conditions of animal testing in the UK, then the fact you have a PhD is irrelevant. It isn't a claim we do have the highest standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I would like to see a rise in experimentation on domestic cats. There are plenty roaming around my garden slaughtering what few rare birds still struggle to raise there young!
    It is so trendy to be animal welfare minded yet these same people send our troops (humans) to die on foreign fields?
    Please 'Like me' on fakebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    #80 Whereas if the drugs weren't tested on animals you'd still have all 250,000 adverse reactions plus a ton more. Its not a particularly good argument.

    Plus I'd like to know who you keep cutting and pasting too because if nothing else its 20 years out of date.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    If everyone really cared that much about the planet and other species we would all sacrifice our lives and be done with it but we wont.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I'm trained in the animal industry under biosciences, with a passion for animal welfare. If you believe animals are mistreated or in distress in animal testing in the uk, you have been given the wrong information from somewhere. The animals welfare is always in consideration. Visit a lab and you might learn something, medicines can be improved, changed and altered to save human and animal lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Over-reliance on vivisection is not only unethical but carries risks for human patients too. The devastating side effects of thalidomide weren't picked up by animal or human tests until after release. Granted, today's tests are followed by human trials but even then problems develop later. Look at all the diet pills (a cosmetic treatment were there ever one) withdrawn due to deaths down the line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    @81 JAB170962. Keep them coming, you are giving me the best laughs today. Who do you think you are kidding??.. ha

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    @ Mad Cat Lady check my first comment. after animal tests drugs go to three stages of human tests before becoming more widely available. It is also against the law to test cosmetics on an animal.


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