Animal research procedures rise by 8%

Posted on July 16, 2013 by

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The government has published figures for the number of procedures using animals for scientific research in the UK during 2012. There has been an 8% increase on 2011’s figures. There was a 22% increase in the breeding of genetically modified animals, primarily mice. Excluding breeding procedures, the number of procedures decreased by 2%.

Background

Every year, the Home Office publishes the number of procedures carried out using animals in the UK. Procedures can be actual experiments – like testing a drug, taking a blood sample or changing a rat’s diet to see if it gets fatter – but the definition also includes the mating of genetically modified (GM) animals. One procedure usually accounts for one animal but sometimes under tightly controlled conditions approved by the Home Office more than one procedure will be carried out on one animal.

We blogged about last year’s figures here.

What are the new figures?

There were 4.11 million scientific procedures started in 2012, an increase of 317,200 (+8%) compared with 2011. 4.03 million animals were used in these procedures, an increase of 322,689 (+9%) compared with 2011.

The table below shows the number of procedures by the main categories of animals, including the changes from 2011.

Species Number of procedures % of total Change from 2011
Mice 3,058,821 74% +14 %
Fish 500,830 12% -11%
Rats 278,386 6% +2%
Birds 153,933 3% -5%
Horse and other equids  8,482 0.21% +1%
Cats and dogs 5,090 0.12% +6%
Primates  3,020 0.07% +22%
Reptiles/amphibians 513 0.01% +33%

Dogs, cats and primates together account for about 0.13% of procedures (1.4% by number of animals) however there was a rise in the number of procedures in both primates and dogs. Primate procedures rose 22% on last year; however this is partly due to a large drop in primate procedures in 2011 and the figure remains 36% lower than in 2010. Overall, there has been a general decline in the number of primates used since 1988, from over 6,000 down to 3,020. 

1.8 million procedures were for breeding GM mice or those with harmful mutations, continuing an upward trend from 2001 this was an increase of 317,353 (+22%) compared to 2011. Excluding these, the number of procedures overall actually decreased by 2%. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has produced a great factsheet about the use of GM animals in research if you want to know more about their use.

Understanding Animal Research have done further analysis and made some very nice graphs, definitely worth a look.

All documents and supplementary figures are available here.

What do these figures tell us?

In part, more procedures is an indicator of more research underway, which is a good thing for improving healthcare and fighting disease. And the rise in the use of GM animals reflects the increasing importance of these animals in this research.

Although on the face of it a rise in the number of animals being used suggests that we are not successfully reducing the number of animals used in research, the NC3Rs themselves are clear that these figures are not helpful in assessing the impact of the 3Rs. There is not enough detail to see how higher-welfare methods are being used to reduce suffering for example, and how the experiments that are underway have reduced the number of animals used. The NC3Rs has a new more detailed data collection framework to help monitor our success in this area and ensure we can keep improving the 3Rs.

It’s really important that the public understand why animals are necessary in research to understand disease and develop new treatments. The biomedical research sector has committed to greater transparency in animal research through the Declaration on openness, which AMRC signed up to last year along with other charities, research councils, universities, learned societies and industry. These groups are now working together to develop a concordat on openness on animal research – setting out principles, practical steps and measurable objectives which will underpin a more transparent approach to animal research. Our Animal Research Working Group is leading our work to support our members in this and ensure that we are looking to replace, refine and reduce animals used in the research that they fund, including through working with the NC3Rs.

If you would like to know more about animal research why not check out our Q&A.

Posted in: Policy