Government support for animal research

Posted on October 5, 2011 by

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In the Lords yesterday afternoon, Lord Willis asked the government about the use of animals in health-related research. In response, the government outlined their ongoing support for well-regulated research using animals where necessary to allow us to continue doing excellent health research in the UK.

Lord Henley, who is a Home Office Minister (the regulation of animal research is governed by the home office) answered.

He restated that the government are committed to reducing the use of animals in scientific research – this is part of the coalition agreement and they announced and initiative to work on this a month ago – more detail in my blog here.

But that the government supports the use of animals where there is no other way of achieving the desired results.

..I think we all accept that if we want the National Health Service and modern medicine as a whole to function effectively, it is essential that we can test on animals and that we make sure that the availability of medicines and treatments has been developed or validated through research, with the appropriate use of animals where it is right to do so

Lord Willis raised the current Animal Aid campaign targeting charities for supporting research using animals – all AMRC members support the use of animals in research  where it is completely necessary to enable us to understand more about a condition or treatment, where there is no alternative, and within the UK’s strict regulation which demands high standards of animal welfare. (You can read the full AMRC statement on the use of animals in medical research here.)

The minister agreed that

…there have been some misleading claims put out by organisations such as those he referred to

Lord Mackay mentioned the plans for the Health Research Authority – the single regulator of health research which the government is in the process of establishing. This has no plans to regulate research using animals at present – it covers research involving human participants, their tissue or data in the UK, not animal research. However some embryology research involves animal and human embryos and so may create new challenges for regulators – the recent academy of medical sciences report focusing on animals containing human material considered some of these challenges. Lord Patel raised this report specifically and Lord Henley confirmed the government were looking at this report but couldn’t yet comment on how they will act on it.

Lord Sutherland raised the role of charities and other public institutions in talking about why they conduct research using animals. Lord Henley agreed that everyone has their role to play.

The Government will do their bit but we hope that everyone in the world of academe, the universities and elsewhere, will do their bit to make it clear that we will do what is necessary and that necessary research is being done.

Check out this brilliant Cancer Research UK blog Animal research is helping us beat cancer  and this British Heart Foundation leaflet Animals and heart research

The EU Directive governing animal research also came up. This has recently been revised and UK law needs updating in line with the new directive. More background here.

The minister reassured the Lords:

I can give an absolute and categorical assurance that we will not be dropping our standards in any way whatever.

and when pushed about the bureaucratic burden of regulation confirmed that they would aim not to impose excessive burdens on any project but their priority is to ensure that the proper research continues in the appropriate manner

What next?

As I mentioned, UK law needs updating to bring us in line with the recently revised EU Directive governing animal research. The government has just consulted on how they should do this (see the AMRC response here) and will take proposals to parliament soon. As they stated in this discussion, the government will change UK requirements to bring us in line with EU regulations but they do not intend to drop UK standards of regulation in any way, although they may look at ways to harmonise with regulations across the EU.

Posted in: Policy