Last year, figures released by the Home Office showed that animal testing in the UK had reached a 25 year high, causing public outrage. Yet, despite promises from the government to reduce the suffering, the number of experiments has actually risen.
The latest numbers show that nearly 4.1 million animals were used in experiments in the UK in 2012, which is the highest total since 1982. Since just 2011, there has been an increase of 317,200 procedures. While the biggest increase was the use of mice, the rising use of other animals — including dogs, cats, sheep, fish, rats, birds and non-human primates — is also raising concerns.
According to Michelle Thew, Chief Executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV):
A 9% increase in the number of animals used in experiments started in 2012 is shocking. The Government has failed for a third year on its post-election pledge to work to reduce the number of animal experiments and, as a result, millions of animals continue to suffer and die in our laboratories. This lack of progress is completely unacceptable. We need to see meaningful and lasting changes for animals in laboratories.
Officials continue to claim that animals are only used when absolutely necessary and that the industry is highly regulated. They also argue that the rise is due to an increase in breeding genetically modified animals for research, which counts as a procedure, and that if they weren’t included in the numbers there would appear to be a decrease in the number of experiments. That decrease, however, would only be two percent.
Either way it’s counted, animal advocates are unimpressed with the government’s repeated failure to make good on its promise to reduce animal experimentation and note that GM animals can suffer, as a result of being bred, from certain diseases and disorders without even being used in experiments.
While testing is on the rise, a separate report showed that the number of officials who visit research facilities is declining, leaving each inspector responsible for overseeing 227,870 animals in 2012, which doesn’t even sound humanly possible.
Even inspections don’t guarantee humane treatment of animals, as the BUAV’s recent investigation of Imperial College London demonstrated. That investigation brought to light a number of problems ranging from the cruelty of the experiments themselves to the complete and utter disregard for animal suffering by researchers.
Still, despite the insanity of all these numbers, they still don’t show how much these millions of animals actually suffered. According to the RSPCA, a new law will require suffering to be assessed and reported following each experiment. The results will be published for the first time in 2015.
“The RSPCA has long argued that accurate and honest information on actual animal suffering is essential, both for public accountability and so that efforts to reduce pain and distress can be properly focused where they are needed the most,” said RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant.
Even with reporting, the level of suffering is still a best guess. It wouldn’t be surprising if it were underestimated by those with an interest in perpetuating the use of animals in research.
As for the pledge to reduce experiments, according to Times Higher Education, the Home Office has plans to publish a plan later this fall that will outline the government’s efforts to deliver on its pledge to reduce animal testing.
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