Animal Welfare Party finds very little to celebrate in today’s release by the Home Office of statistics showing an apparent ‘drop’ in the number of animal experiments performed in the UK in 2014.
Statistics may appear to show a 6% drop in the number of experiments performed but,
in response to an EU directive, the way the Home Office collects figures has changed – meaning comparisons with figures from previous years are actually difficult to make. Tests are now counted when they conclude, instead of when they begin.
The figures can be viewed in full here:
The apparent drop in use is the first in the 5 years since the government’s 2010 commitment to reducing animal experiments. However, even the Home Office’s chief statistician David Blunt today said any comparisons made between 2014 and earlier “should be made with caution.”
While Lord Bates, Minister of State at the Home Office, declared in a written statement that “Today’s figures indicate the science community continues to respond to the government’s firm commitment to adopting measures to replace, reduce and refine animal use”, Animal Welfare Party believes the figures continue to demonstrate that government is doing far too little, far too slowly to replace, reduce and refine animal experiments.
Most worryingly, today’s figures show that 5% or 193,500 of the 3.87 million total “procedures” performed in 2014 fall into the ‘severe’ suffering testing category, which may involve such activities as forcing an animal to run until he/she becomes exhausted or repeated electric shock treatment to induce a state of ‘learned helplessness’.
AWP believes we must phase out animal experimentation with binding targets for reduction, combined with funding and support for alternatives.
Below we outline the policies that we believe would constitute a genuine commitment to replacing, reducing and refining animal experiments and better serving the human population with scientific experiments of far greater human clinical and biomedical utility.
AWP proposes that:
- Immediate, quantitative, binding targets for reductions in animal use for the UK must be set, with the aim of eventually replacing all harmful animal use with non-harmful or non-animal alternatives.
- The use of primates in animal experiments must end immediately.
- The use of animals for xenotransplantation must end immediately.
- Genetic manipulation (including cloning) of animals must end immediately.
- A deadline must be set to end the “severe” suffering testing category.
- Criteria to approve animal experiment licence applications should become harder to meet. We want applications for animal experiments to be subject to much stricter requirements, i.e. an extensive and thorough rather than cursory prior review of the relevant scientific literature. Applications for experiments that are not deemed to be of significant importance, such as health claims on foods, should not be granted.
- Mandatory, independent ethical review of all experimental protocols should be implemented as a condition of licensing, with ample opportunity for prior, independent and public scrutiny of such protocols.
- The composition of ethics committees must be balanced to allow for more expert animal welfare opinion.
- Mandatory retrospective evaluation should be introduced to assess the degree to which experimental objectives were successfully met, the extent to which animals suffered, to help inform both future research and further experimental licensing decisions.
- Mandatory compliance should be a prerequisite for (public) funding of experiments, license approval, and publication of results, with a range of best practice standards, and each of the 3Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use implemented before and during experiments. These would include: minimum standards relating to animal sourcing, housing, environmental enrichment, opportunities for social interaction for social species, appropriate use of anaesthetics and analgesics (painkillers), animal handling, non-invasive endpoints, and statistical input during experimental design.
- Unwarranted experimental duplication happens far too often and is quite simply unjustifiable. We call for mandatory prompt, public sharing of all experimental results, to avoid this sad state of affairs from continuing.
- In the UK and across Europe animal experiments for the development of patents should no longer be permitted.
- Funding for the further development, scientific validation and implementation of alternative methodologies should be substantially increased. The UK government must support all moves to provide the EU Reference lab, ECVAM with further support and funding so that the validation process for alternatives can be expedited from taking years to months, and for those alternatives to be applied throughout Europe without delay.
- The UK government must support moves to establish well-funded national Centres of Excellence in the Development of Alternatives to Animal Use, in all EU countries where such animal use exists.
- We call for increased, compulsory training and continuing professional development in experimental best practice standards and alternative methodologies for all animal researchers and technicians.
- The breeding of lab animals and killing of surplus animals must end.
- We believe there is a moral imperative to provide independently-scrutinised sanctuaries, maintained to high welfare standards, funded by industries and sectors using animals, for those animals retired from laboratory animal use, in which such animals shall be housed for the remainder of their natural lives.
- Ultimately, we seek a ban on all harmful use of animals within biomedical research, toxicity testing and education. Only non-harmful use should be permitted. Examples include non-invasive observational or behavioural studies of domesticated species, or non-domesticated species within sanctuaries or the wild; the education of veterinary students via participation in beneficial clinical procedures on genuine animal patients; and experimental treatment of animal patients, genuinely suffering from severe, naturally-occurring disease or injury, when conventional treatment is not effective.
To find out more about Animal Welfare Party’s policies visit the Vision section of our website.