RSPCA: Lab animal numbers break 4 million barrier

Today the Government announced that the number of animals used annually in scientific procedures in the UK has increased yet again, and shockingly, has now broken the 4 million mark  (4.03 million animals used in a total of 4.11 million scientific procedures).

There have been disappointing increases in the use of animals such as mice, dogs and primates.

The figures include:

  • Increase of 8.4% in the number of scientific procedures carried out on animals (compared to 2011).
  • Increase of 8.7% in the number of animals used (compared with 2011).
  • Increase of 14.5% in number of mice used (386,515 more than in 2011).
  • Dog use increased for the first time since 2007 (3,214 in 2012 compared to 2,865 in 2011).
  • Increase in number of procedures involving non-human primate use – up by 22% (+545) compared to 2011.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “This is a serious issue – the latest figures are alarming and should serve as a wake up call to all involved to up their game in the mission to replace and reduce the use of animals in research and testing.

“We will be asking for an urgent meeting with Lord Taylor, the Home Office minister with responsibility for animal experiments, and with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to discuss this issue which is extremely important to the lives of animals and so many of the public.”

Slipping standards?

At the same time, a separate report(1) published today on the work of the Home Office Inspectorate, which oversees the implementation of the law on animal experiments, shows a deeply concerning fall in the number of official visits made to UK animal research and testing establishments. 

The report shows an 11% fall in the number of official visits that Inspectors made between 2011 and 2012. This means the overall number of inspections (1,285) has almost halved since 2007 (2,401).

The average number of Home Office Inspectors in post and carrying out normal inspection duties during the period 2007 to December 2012 also fell, from almost 25 full time equivalents (24.7) to 17.7. When taken together, this means that the number of animals to each inspector ratio has been consistently rising, from 126,551 in 2007 to 164,819 in 2010, and to a massive 227,870 by the end of 2012.     

Gavin said: “The recent decrease in Home Office Inspectors is significant and of grave concern. It will be totally unacceptable to the RSPCA – and to the public – if standards slip in some establishments as a result of a lack of adequate investment in oversight by the Government.

“A poll released at the end of 2012 also found that public confidence that the rules on animal experimentation are being well enforced has dropped(2), and the figures released today are only likely to confirm these views.”

Animals can and do suffer – but how much?

“Every animal used in research matters to the RSPCA, whether they are a mouse, fish or dog.  Each one is an individual capable of experiencing pain and distress, and each experiment has the potential to cause suffering,” Gavin said.

“The RSPCA is tired of hearing dismissive statements that the vast majority of animal experiments cause ‘little or no suffering’ and are simple ‘changes in diet’ or ‘blood samples’. We know that animals can and do suffer, sometimes severely, but no-one knows yet how much suffering is actually caused overall as the data haven’t been collected.”

The RSPCA campaigned for accurate information about actual animal suffering to be reported to the public, as the previous system just required a prediction of the “average” level of likely suffering for each project.

The UK law regulating animal research has recently been revised and includes some new requirements. Now, the suffering experienced by each animal will have to be assessed and reported following every experiment. This information will be published for the first time in 2015.

Gavin added: “The RSPCA has long argued that accurate and honest information on actual animal suffering is essential, both for public accountability and so that efforts to reduce pain and distress can be properly focused where they are needed the most.”

Increasing use of genetically altered animals

The number of procedures involving genetically modified mice rose once again last year. Genetically modified animals are now used in well over 50% of all procedures.The RSPCA has many concerns about this use of biotechnology as the techniques involved are often very inefficient – meaning that large numbers of animals’ lives are wasted.

Gavin said: “It’s also often stated that many procedures are ‘simply breeding animals’. Let’s be clear, ‘breeding’ relates to the procedures used to create genetically altered animals, for example hormone injections and surgery to implant embryos. Large numbers of animals also lose their lives as part of the process. All of these present very serious ethical and welfare issues, quite apart from the fact that when born, genetically altered animals may experience painful or distressing side effects that can be hard to predict.”


Notes to editors

1. Animals in Science Regulation Unit – Annual Report 2012

The costs of running the Animals in Science Regulation Unit are covered by the fees paid by those who apply for and hold licences to use animals. It is generally self-financing:

2. The poll, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and released at the end of 2012, highlighted a fall in the number of people who trust that rules on animal experimentation are being well enforced, from 56% in 2010 to 43% in 2012:   

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