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RSPCA slams animal testing for vaccines

THOUSANDS OF laboratory animals are used every year in tests on vital veterinary vaccines for pets and farm animals, a new RSPCA report highlights. Approximately 425,000 animals are used in the EU every year to produce and test these vaccines which, the RSPCA recognises, are invaluable in preventing disease in pets and farm animals. Dogs, cats, horses, hamsters and guinea pigs are just some of the animals used in the tests which are required by international legislation.

The RSPCA is urging regulators, policy makers and manufacturers to find new ways of testing these essential vaccines and is calling for:

– information about the number of animals used in tests on veterinary vaccines to be collected and published regularly

– the development and use of alternatives to tests on animals

– red tape to be cut - currently it can take more than 10 years for alternative tests to be given the green light

– any unnecessary tests on animals to be stopped

– greater effort to reduce the numbers of animals used and levels of suffering until new methods can be developed.

In the UK more than half of the lab animals used in vaccine tests are used to ensure that newly manufactured batches of vaccine are effective. The tests have to be carried out by law as vaccines are biological and their results can vary. Many of these tests involve infecting animals with serious diseases which causes considerable suffering.

In one common test, two groups of animals are infected with a disease. The first group is vaccinated against that disease, but the second group is not. The vaccinated animals must remain healthy and the unvaccinated ones must develop the disease, and possibly die, in order for the vaccine to be proven effective.

This test is commonly carried out on hamsters to check the strength of a vaccine given to puppies to protect them from leptospirosis, an infection which can cause liver and kidney damage. Guinea pigs are used in the same way to test a vaccine which protects cattle and sheep from ‘black leg’, a disease similar to gangrene.

The RSPCA report - as well as calling for the development of replacements for these tests - is calling more humane test methods to be approved by regulators much more quickly. Currently it can take more than 10 years for them to be accepted.

Statistics on the numbers of animals used specifically to test veterinary vaccines are not routinely collected and published. The 2003 figures last quoted show that 31, 047 animals were used to test veterinary vaccines in the UK, of these most were poultry 10,732 but 397 dogs and 266 cats were also used.