Campaigners call for greater transparency to facilitate adoption of advanced non-animal methods
Home Office figures released today reveal that 3,721,744 mice, fish, rabbits, dogs, rats, monkeys and other animals were used for research in UK laboratories last year. With the full extent of their suffering unknown, and whether modern non-animal methods could have been used in their place, the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is calling on the UK Government to end the secrecy and open up animal research to public scrutiny.
Jan Creamer, President of the National Anti-Vivisection Society said, “With advanced modern methodsbeing more accurate and relevant than animal tests, the UK Government must do more to encourage researchers to adopt their use. A shift in policy and end to the secrecy surrounding animal tests is urgently needed to enable science to save lives – better for people and animals.”
The NAVS has long held concerns about the secrecy surrounding animal research and the process of licensingtests. And it is not alone. The most recent Ipsos Mori poll (2016) found that nearly half (42%) of the public think animal research organisations are secretive, with one third not trusting the regulatory system.
Attempts by animal researchers to be more “open” are little more than a PR exercise, failing to show the reality of how animals really live and die in the laboratory, and the more invasive procedures they are subjected to. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that the UK Government continues to sanction these outdated tests without sufficient justification being provided by experimenters, causing unnecessary suffering and hindering science.
To address the issue, the NAVS is calling for the licence applications, that must be submitted by animal researchers, to be made public before their experiments are given the go-ahead, omitting personal or intellectual property. ‘Non-Technical Summaries’ from such applications are currently published by the Home Office onlyafter licences have been granted; they are one of the very few ways to find out what actually happens to animals in laboratories, and to see where replacements could be implemented.
The NAVS has been analysing these summaries and, with further information requests, has shown thatassessment of project applications by the Home Office fails to acknowledge current scientific evidence on the validity of animal experiments; in addition, animal researchers and regulators lack awareness of the non-animal methods that could replace them. These are just three examples from their findings:
– Decades old “evidence” was used to support an applicant’s claim that available alternatives in education and training could not replace the use of animals to teach pharmacology, with recent and relevant evidence on available non-animal techniques omitted.
– No evidence was provided to show an HIV vaccine tested in monkeys would be effective in humans, the applicant seemingly unaware of a comprehensive review outlining how 85+ vaccines found to be successful in monkey tests and other trials proved ineffective in human patients.
– Despite “the difficulty of closely modelling human traumatic spinal cord injury in animals” researchers stated their biology was “sufficiently similar” to humans to justify the use of rats in spinal cord injury experiments, their application was granted despite their failure to provide robust scientific evidence to support their claim.
The UK law on animal experiments, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, was revised in 2012 to implement the new European Directive 2010/63/EU. When the UK leaves the European Union, it is expected that the Directive will continue to be incorporated within UK law. It is unknown however whether the Directive’s aim to make a “step towards achieving the final goal of full replacement of procedures on live animals for scientific and educational purposes” (Recital 10) will be included. The UK was the highest user of animals in the EU in 2016.
A summary of the latest Home Office figures on the use of animals in research:
– 3,721,744 animals were used for research in 2017, a decrease of 145,784
– Over 688,500 experiments and breeding procedures forced animals to suffer severely (137,599) or moderately (550,901). ‘Severe’ suffering can include internal bleeding, heart failure, and nerve damage. ‘Moderate’ suffering can include implanting a device into monkeys’ skulls, with common adverse effects including wound infections. 1,354,337 ‘mild’ experiments were conducted. ‘Mild’ suffering can include food or water restriction to motivate performance in behavioural tasks and foot shocks in mice.
– 2,780,358 mice, the most commonly used species, were used in tests, a decrease of 83,359 and 238,538 rats, a decrease of 7,045.
– 512,753 fish, the second most used species, were used in experiments, a decrease of 22,316.
– 2,496 dogs were used in tests, a decrease of 1,034. Experiments can involve force-feeding compounds such as agricultural chemicals, or having toxic substances pumped into their veins.
– 2,215 monkeys were used in experiments, a decrease of 225. Monkeys are used mainly to test drugs and typically endure force-feeding or injections of experimental compounds; full body immobilisation in restraint chairs whilst they are experimented on.
– 719,326 experiments were on genetically modified animals. A further 1,903,440 procedures were for the creation and maintenance of animals with genetic modifications, who can suffer from deformed limbs, fused bones and painful swellings. Of the total 2,622,766 procedures involved in the genetic alteration of animals,2,219,244 included mice and 386,283 fish.
For further information, please see www.navs.org.uk