There was an increase in mutant mice used
The number of animal experiments carried out in the UK rose by 8% in 2012, according to Home Office figures.
The rise is largely due to an increase in the number of genetically modified animals being used.
For the first time, the number of procedures involving GM animals was higher than the number on non-GM ones.
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 (GM) animals used compared to 1.68 million non-GM animals.
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.”
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.”
Dominic Wells from the Royal Veterinary College said: “We are in an era of developing treatments for rare diseases in a way that we were 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.”