There were more than 3.52million scientific procedures involving animals last year

A Home Office report published today reveals the lowest number of scientific procedures on animals since 2007 but the RSPCA highlights there are still millions of animals involved.

The animal welfare charity says that despite the fall, the figures* demonstrate that the sheer numbers of animals involved underline the need for strong regulation and increased efforts to develop humane alternatives to end lab animal use.

 

The statistics released today show that in the UK during 2018:

  • 3.52 million scientific procedures were completed on animals last year.

  • This figure includes 2.6 million procedures on mice, almost 180,000 on rats, more than 11,000 on rabbits, more than 4,000 on dogs and over 3,000 monkeys.

  • 39% of the overall procedures undertaken were categorised as causing animals ‘mild’ suffering, 15% involved ‘moderate’ suffering and 4% involved ‘severe’ suffering.

  • Much of the reduction from the 2017 figures relates to a 10% fall in the number of scientific procedures undertaken for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals.

Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the research animals team at the RSPCA, said: “We sincerely hope that this fall in numbers reflects an ongoing trend. If it is due to increasing uptake of humane alternatives, and fewer animal lives being wasted when creating genetically altered animals, then this would be an essential step towards more humane science.

“But it is important not to become complacent. Behind these numbers are the lives of millions of individual animals. Each is sentient, and each is capable of experiencing pain, suffering and distress. The RSPCA strongly believes that these animals deserve much better, and that a lot more could still be done in practice to challenge animal use, reduce suffering and improve welfare.”

Separate Home Office statistics published in 2018 show**  that in addition to the animals involved in actual scientific procedures, around a further 1.8 million lab animals are bred and then killed each year so that their organs and tissues can be used in research, or because they are deemed to be ‘surplus’ for example. Taking these figures together, animal research and testing involves more than five million animals in the UK alone.

Penny continues “Around 40-50 million animals will have been used for scientific purposes in the UK over the last decade. That is a truly breathtaking statistic which should make everyone sit up and take notice. It represents a staggering impact on animals. Although numbers are down this year, there is still a very long way to go. Significant additional investments are essential towards developing, validating and using non-animal technologies.”

These figures follow on from an opinion poll*** released earlier in the year that highlighted the UK public’s clear desire for more to be done to reduce lab animal use.

“Three quarters of the public have said there should be more research into humane alternatives to animal experiments, and almost half believe that more could be done to reduce the suffering of animals used. The RSPCA strongly agrees,” said Penny.

Also expected to be published soon**** is the Annual Report from the Animals in Science Regulation Unit. Past reports have shown that over recent years the number of official inspections of labs has plummeted, from 1,984 in 2010 to just 966 in 2017.

Penny concludes: “The public is entitled to expect strong controls on animal experiments that will be robustly enforced. The trend of decreasing official inspections of labs using animals is deeply worrying and reflects either a lack of resources or a more ‘hands-off’ approach to regulation. Either way, this is disturbing to all those who have legitimate concerns about the suffering of lab animals, and calls into question the statements we keep hearing about the UK’s commitment to ensuring the ‘highest welfare standards’.”

 

Ends

 

Notes to editors

*Home Office (2019) ‘Annual statistics of scientific procedures on living animals, Great Britain 2018’: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/animals-in-science-statistics

**Home Office (2018) ‘Additional statistics on breeding and genotyping of animals for scientific procedures, Great Britain 2017’: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/animals-in-science-statistics

***The full results of the Ipsos Mori poll (‘Public attitudes to animal research in 2018’) are available at: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/public-attitudes-animal-research-2018

****Home Office (2018) ‘Animals in Science Regulation Unit – Annual Report 2017’ https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/animals-in-science-regulation-unit-annual-reports

  1. More information about the RSPCA’s research animals team can be found here: https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/researchanimals

  2. The RSPCA’s primary aim is the replacement of animal experiments with humane alternatives worldwide. Until this can be achieved, our work helps to ensure that the minimum numbers of animals are used, they experience the minimum suffering, and their welfare is significantly improved.