New statistics released by the Home Office show that almost 3.8 million scientific procedures involving animals were carried out in 2017, a 4% drop on the previous year. These included 1.89 million experiments on live animals – with reasons ranging from legally required drug testing to surgical training.
However, over the past 10 years, the number of procedures carried out with animals has risen by four per cent. The government said this was due to a rise in the creation/breeding and use of genetically altered (GA) animals, largely due to the availability of new technology which has led to novel research opportunities.
FRAME gave a “cautious welcome” to the small reduction in total procedures using animals, while expressing disappointment that the overall numbers remain very high, with the charity saying there were 1.17 million more scientific procedures involving animals in 2017 than in 2001.
FRAME is particularly concerned about sharp rise in the numbers of GA animals that are being bred each year for use in scientific and medical testing, with limited success rates.
“Hundreds of GA animals are being bred each year for experimental purposes, but the ability to translate the results from these animal experiments into information relevant to human disease is extremely limited and means wasted life and welfare issues for many of the animals being created.
“Decades have been spent creating and studying GA mice to investigate the effects of inactivating different genes in the hope of understanding human mutations and disorders better. It has recently been discovered that there are at least 40 genes in mice that are lethal if inactivated, however these genes have been found inactive in members of the human population with no obvious detrimental effect. This discovery elegantly illustrates the limited utility of GA mice as models for human conditions.
“Rather than trying to recreate human disease models in GA animal models we should be collecting and analysing mutations and differences from the wealth of human genetic data around us.”
The Home Office report shows that the number of experiments using primates has fallen 17% since 2016, while there has been a sharp increase in the use of horses – an 18% rise in the same time period.
The Home Office said experimental procedures accounted for half of the 3.79 million procedures carried out on animals in 2017. It added that 27% of these experimental procedures were for regulatory testing. This is testing carried out to satisfy legal requirements such as evaluating the safety or effectiveness of pharmaceuticals, and the safety of other chemicals. This is an area where the largest number of dogs (2,597) and primates (1,940) were used in 2017.
FRAME pointed out that the increase in GA animal use over the last 10 years is not only a worrying development for the reasons explained above: it seemingly contradicts the UK government’s stance that it supports the 3Rs.
In February 2014 the Universities and Science Minister David Willetts announced a plan to deliver the 3Rs – the reduction, replacement and refinement – of the use of live animals in scientific, cosmetic and medical research.
He said the delivery plan
“puts science at the heart of our commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in research”.
While the government has stated its commitment to finding alternatives to using live animals in laboratories, FRAME believes the Home Office stats suggest its efforts so far are having little effect.
“It’s gratifying that the Home Office said there has been an overall reduction in primate use in the last decade, although the numbers are still higher than in 2011, and their use is predominantly for the testing of pharmaceuticals.
“With clear scientific evidence questioning the reliability of studies involving dogs and primates and their ability to translate into human benefits, we must question why the numbers are still so high in this area.
“We are also concerned that an increased number of horses are apparently being used for the provision of blood products for diagnostic procedures.
“Surely more money should be spent on human relevant research rather than focusing on the creation of new GA animals?”
FRAME’s vision is a world where non-animal methods are accepted as scientific best practice.
The charity’s ultimate aim is the elimination of the need to use laboratory animals in any kind of medical or scientific procedures.
To view the full statistics, please visit here.