ANIMALS WERE used in 2.8 million scientific 'procedures' in 2003, an increase on the preceding year. The term can mean anything from the use of animals to make natural products to scientific experiments.
According to recently released Home office figures, 2,791,781 procedures were carried out on animals in 2003, as opposed to 2,732,712 in 2002. Around 85 per cent of all animals used in medical research were specially bred rats, mice and other rodents.
Specially bred dogs and cats made up a relatively small proportion of the total, equalling 0.3 per cent of all research animals, while monkeys such as marmosets and macaques made up 0.17 per cent. The use of chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas is banned. Most of the farmed animal population in Britain is bred for food. Only 0.36 per cent is involved in biomedical research.
About 230 laboratories are permitted to carry out animal research. Home Office inspectors make around 2,600 visits each year, mostly unannounced.
Under British law, all medicines must be tested on at least two species of animals before proceeding to human trials. A 2002 Mori poll showed that 86 per cent of the public accept the need for animal experimentation, provided there is no unnecessary suffering.
Animals have been used in the development of blood transfusions, insulin for diabetes, anaesthetics, anticoagulants, antibiotics, heart and lung machines for open heart surgery, hip replacement surgery, transplantation, high blood pressure medication, replacement heart valves, chemotherapy for leukaemia, life support systems for premature babies, the meningitis vaccine and others.
Meanwhile, three Nobel laureates are among more than 500 British scientists who have signed a declaration supporting the need for animal experiments.
Their statement on the use of animals in medical research coincides with the closure last week of a guinea-pig breeding farm after years of violence and intimidation by animal welfare protesters. Academics have spent a month gathering signatures for the declaration, which was released on August 25th on the fifteenth anniversary of a similar initiative by British scientists.
The statement has also been signed by more than 250 professors — 100 scientists from abroad and nearly 100 scientists from industry — bringing the total who have added their names to more than 700.
The declaration states: "Throughout the world people enjoy a better quality of life because of advances made possible through medical research, and the development of new medicines and other treatments. A small but vital part of that work involves the use of animals." It acknowledges the importance of strict regulations in animal experiments, and the need to reduce procedures.
Last year the Government created a national centre for the replacement, refinement and reduction of animal experiments. It has provided grants to researchers for this purpose, but this has not produced a reduction in the number of animal tests: about three million a year.
Three months ago the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a think-tank, said that the Government and the scientific community should do more to find alternatives to animal experiments. The council’s study called for greater transparency on how many animals are killed, how many experience pain and suffering, to what degree and for how long.