RSPCA calls for end to ‘severe’ suffering of lab animals

Today (24 April) is World Day for Laboratory Animals and the RSPCA is calling on the UK Government to commit to ending the use of animals in experiments that cause ‘severe’ suffering.

Scientific procedures using animals in the UK are classified as ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’, and while any level of suffering is a concern for the RSPCA, ending severe suffering is a top priority.

The amount of pain or distress experienced by each lab animal depends on the kind of research being done, and also on how much effort has been made to reduce or avoid suffering.  Each year, animals are involved in experiments categorised as ‘severe’, which cause severe pain, suffering or distress, or ‘severe impairment of their well being or general condition’.  The exact number of animals experiencing this will be unknown, until changes in reporting take effect next year – but even a 2% level of severe suffering will involve tens of thousands of animals.

This is a major animal welfare and ethical issue that the RSPCA believes must be addressed as a matter of urgency.  We are urging the UK Government to take a policy decision not to license animal experiments in which animals would be expected to experience ‘severe’ suffering.

RSPCA Senior Scientist Dr Penny Hawkins said: “A Government decision not to allow severe suffering would truly focus the minds of those using animals in research, or who fund animal use, on ensuring that absolutely everything possible is done to avoid severe pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

“People often say that they work to ‘high welfare standards’ and do not want to cause severe suffering, so they should view a decision not to license these experiments as a welcome challenge to help them make real progress towards more humane science.”



Notes to editors

1. The severity categories for animal experiments in the UK are ‘non-recovery’ (where the experiment is done entirely under general anaesthesia and the animal does not recover), ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’. Prior to 1st January 2013, the current ‘severe’ category was termed ‘substantial’.

2. Data on actual levels of suffering will not be available until July 2015 (reported for animal experiments undertaken during 2014), but we estimate that between 2 and 10% of procedures may currently be causing severe suffering.

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