The number of scientific procedures carried out on animals rose by 6% last year to just over 3.2m. The vast majority (83%) used rodents, while the number of procedures that involved monkeys was down 6% with 3,125 monkeys being used in total.
The overall increase is due largely to the continued trend for researchers to use more genetically modified mice and fish in experiments. Creating GM animals involves two steps of breeding and these animals are counted in the figures as having undergone a scientific "procedure". In 2007, 1.15m GM animals were used, a rise of 11% on the previous year. Over a third of all procedures in 2007 were breeding animals.
"As the volume of medical research increases, which we all want to see, then the overall volume of legitimate and useful animal experiments will increase despite steps taken to minimise their use," said Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who is a strong supporter of the regulated use of animals in scientific research. He welcomed the use of more GM animals because he said this was a refinement that would make animal use more relevant to human diseases.
Iain Simpson of the Oxford group Pro-Test agreed: "We view the increase in the use of transgenic animals used as especially positive as it shows that academics are continuing to use innovative new methods to find cures for life threatening diseases."
The figures, which were released by the Home Office this morning, show that 83% of procedures used rats, mice and other rodents, 10% used fish and 4% used birds.
The number of procedures carried out on dogs was up 600 (9%) while the number carried out on cats dropped by 216 (41%) and the number of cattle procedures was down 2000 (39%). Genetically normal animals were used in 1.73 million regulated procedures (54% of the total), up 5% on the 2006 figures.
The total number of animals used was 3.125m, an increase of 6%.
Home Office minister Meg Hillier said: "As the regulator we ensure that a proper balance between animal welfare and scientific advancement is maintained; and that the regulatory system is effective, efficient and impartial ... Advances with non-animal test methods continue to be made, but at present licensed animal use remains essential to develop improved health-care technologies."
Groups who oppose animal testing condemned the figures, pointing out that they represented an increase of 21% in animal experiments since Labour came to power.
"In 1997 animal welfare tokenism may well have been a vote winner for Labour. But it has resulted in an eleven year record of failure that has now seen the number of animals dying in British laboratories reach three million for the first time in 16 years," said Wendy Higgins of the Dr Hadwen Trust. "If the government doesn't take urgent action to implement a clear strategy to replace animals with advanced techniques, Labour's legacy for lab animals will be an appalling failure."
She said that 0.00002% of Britain's science budget was spent on government funding of non-animal replacements.
Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "It is a national disgrace that the number of animals subjected to experiments has massively risen under this government. Despite clear public concern on this issue, the government has made no attempt to take the necessary action and develop a clear policy on getting the numbers down. The UK should be leading the way in reducing animal testing, but these latest statistics show there is a long way to go."
(c) 2008 The Guardian
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