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 283.

    #57 You need to get your facts straight: a full EU ban on cosmetics tested on animals came into force on 11/03/2013 - that's 4 months NOT several years! Bearing this in mind, I'll take any of your other comments with a pinch of salt.

    Everyone will die from something or other: I accept this and would be happy to end all animal experiments at the expense of finding cures for incurable diseases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Animal testing is barbaric. We must stop bad science. We learn little from animal testing because animals are not like humans - we have a totally different DNA and make up, different enzymes etc. We can manage without the evil products that are testing on animals. Natural things do a better job. It is wrong to put an animal through treatments like this - they feel pain just like us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    To me this is not even news!!

    I am totally for animal testing, as it will eventually end most horrible diseases in humans and in animals!!

    As for testing on humans rather than mice, what is wrong with you people??

    Where are your morals!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Re "With our prisons full of murderers, paedophiles, sex offenders and terrorists why don't we use them?"

    Oh, I don't know, maybe something along the lines of "what is the point of testing a drug for X when X is not there?" perhaps? You know, sort of like they do in some Asian countries (which is harmful to everyone). Your idea isn't any more humane than your targets, is sick and harmful to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    The very suggestion that animal testing necessarily equates to animal cruelty shows a real lack of education and understanding of medical science.
    Ever hear of anthrax or rabies? You know, the diseases that kill not only humans but the animals that carry them to begin with (etc). Vaccine anyone? Other way around: a tetracyclic antidepressant (mirtazapine) is used in cats as an appetite stimulant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    @275 thelostdot

    It's not as simple as "It's safe for a rat therefore it's safe for humans" or the other way around. This is not what animals are used for, not like the bad old days of cosmetics.

    Biological systems are immensely complex and not fully understood. For now this is the only way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    275. Thalidomide like any drug was studied in humans and that didn't show up its side effects. Is this a valid argument for abolishing human clinical trials?
    Animal testing can never be 100% effective & things like in vitro can compliment it but I have seen nothing out there that could adequately replace it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    We cant operate as living creatures without making an ethical distinction between our own species & other life. Yes we're empathetic so dislike cruelty but treating other life equally to human life leads to an endless list of mustn't dos until the only logical course of action is sitting down until you starve. Though that will kill your gut flora so catch 22.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    273. JREYRE Penecillin is known to kill (actually I think it was) Guinea pigs. Thalidomide was tested on human beings and found to be safe. These FACTS are very relevant because given these what actual use can verification on animals be? If we give this level of credance to animal testing them we will quite possibly dismiss something that would be helpful or allow something dangerous!

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    With our prisons full of murderers, paedophiles, sex offenders and terrorists why don't we use them? They're of no use to society plus a more accurate picture would be obtained by testing on human subjects. Personally I find that to be a more ethical option to testing on animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    thelostdot 254. Sorry about the misunderstanding. However I still cannot in good conscience say animal testing should be stopped.

    Seeing how genetics & pharmaceuticals operate in complex organisms is vital for both fundamental research & safety prior to trials on human beings especially the former.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    nice to see the BBC is still running it's smear campaign over all things NHS. i know this isn't anything to do with this news story but they aren't letting you comment on their "DON'T USE THE NHS,IT WILL KILL YOU. BEST LET THE GOVERNMENT PRIVATISE IT" campaign

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    The industry seems to have fallen into their old bad habits of "the traditional ways are best". They aren't and this should not be happening. It means that the animal rights movement will have to start working against this issue again. It means that again boycotts of certain industries will be necessary, and lots of debunking of the lies that this industry seeks to tell to justify it's existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    I find this deeply disturbing and I am shocked by this news. Medicine has become a money making industry that does not need to inflict pain and suffering in this way. There are always alternatives and we should see this for what it is... cruel and unnecessary. To inflict such sustained and prolonged suffering on innocent creatures is barbaric in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    #262 CURTAINS 2012, #252 rrrobs
    "Is any testing necessary, given such certainty of the pharmacological effects of any substance?"

    Simply not true. The number of potential compounds - proteins, etc is essentially unlimited, and there are hundreds of thousands or more different potential chemicals in the body. The number of possible interactions is immense, predictability requires experiment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    As I scientist who has moved from the UK to USA where animal experiments are much more frequent, I am sure these experiments are absolutely fundamental for answering many important questions about new treatments. For example, how am I meant to see if a developmental antibiotic that I am working on is effective without testing it in an animal model?

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    266 Auntie Left. I have been pointing out the misrepresentation of the Liverpool care pathway for ages. Why exactly do you think that the NHS and animal rights are mutually exclusive? In fact if everybody does not fight against ALL the evils in our world we would be in danger of letting some very unsavoury stuff continue completely unimpeded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    So what!
    We have REAL problems that have to be sorted.
    No more pandering to these 'animal rights' bunch.
    We have people dying in the NHS because of not enough attention paid to real world problems.
    Prioritise please

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    4 Minutes ago

    We will never be truly civilized and there will never be peace in the world until we learn to respect all living creatures.


    Are we allowed to feed meat to our pets that are obligate carnivores?

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    It used to be thought that black people were a lesser species than white people and thus undeserving of rights or consideration.
    The attitudes towards vivisection of animals are no different. It is the same underlying assumption that power gives us rights.
    We will never be truly civilized and there will never be peace in the world until we learn to respect all living creatures.


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