THE NUMBER of scientific procedures carried out on lab animals in 2005 increased to nearly 2.9m, according to figures released by the Home Office – and the most procedures are carried out in Scotland than in any other part of the UK.
The vast majority of animals used (84%) were mice, rats and other rodents, with fish and birds making up 8% and 4% of the total respectively, whilst dogs and cats made up less than 1% of the total. Even so, a total of 1,308 dogs were used.
The overall figure, a rise of 1.4%, is the highest since 1992, but one senior scientist said it was distorted by the number of animals used in breeding genetically modified animals.
Last week, the Scotsman newspaper obtained and published detailed figures on scientific experiments conducted on living creatures in Scotland.
The official statistics compiled by the Home Office show that last year, there were 408,794 tests on animals in Scotland - a 4.5 per cent increase on the previous year.
The figures also reveal that Scotland is carrying out a disproportionate amount of animal testing in the UK, with tests north of the border making up 14.1 per cent of the UK's 2.91 million procedures even though Scots make up only around 8 per cent of the total population.
An expert accused the government of ‘complacency and hypocrisy,’ suggesting that ministers have neglected technologies that could reduce the use of animal testing.
Among the animals used in the research in Scotland were: 910 monkeys, 1,308 dogs, 5,294 sheep, 3,016 rabbits, 941 pigs, 69 horses. 267,960 mice, 49,284 rats, 2,944 guinea pigs. Tests were also conducted on 7,854 birds, 238 amphibians and 56,993 fish. Cats came off best, with only four being used for experimentation north of the border during the period.
The increase in testing comes even after ministers' pledges to increase efforts to find alternatives.
The government is officially committed to the ‘three Rs’, internationally agreed scientific principles aiming, wherever possible, to replace animals in science, refine the tests on them and reduce the suffering of animals used in any procedures.
In 2004, the government doubled its funding into replacements for animal testing, and established a special laboratory for the work, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.
Since then, however, total animal testing in Britain has continued to rise. Scientists say the main cause of the rise is genetic research, which commonly involves the use of large numbers of mice whose genes have been manipulated, a point apparently borne out by the Scottish data.
Of the procedures carried out in Scotland last year, 128,561 involved genetically modified animals and 11,048 involved animals with a harmful genetic defect.
Dr Gill Langley, who served for eight years as a member of the Animal Procedures Committee (APC) and is now science director of the Dr Hadwen Trust, a charity that promotes alternatives to animal tests, said: ‘In the years that I served on the APC, the government's complacency and hypocrisy over animal experiments was often apparent. The irrational prejudice against modern non-animal techniques must be overcome and that message needs to come loud and clear right from the top.’
Alistair Currie, campaigns director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, condemned the government over the new data.
‘These figures show that Scottish labs are putting more animals through pointless, painful experiments per head of population than those in the rest of the UK,’ he said.
‘Animal experiments are not only ethically indefensible, they are scientifically inefficient - over 90 per cent of drugs that 'pass' animal tests fail in human trials. The British government must stop standing on the sidelines and come up with a strategy to deal with this worsening animal welfare crisis.’
The Home Office, which oversees all animal testing in the UK, defended the government's record.
‘The UK's controls on the use of animals are amongst the tightest in the world. The government is firmly committed to the three Rs. To this end, the government and its agencies spend upwards of £10million annually on this research, and the industry itself spends significantly more,’ said a spokesperson.
‘There remains a clear need for the use of animals in vital scientific research where no alternative is available. This type of research saves countless lives each year and the government fully supports the efforts of scientists working to secure medical advances and public health improvements.’
Dogs are used in many areas of testing, including toxicity tests, surgery, and dental experiments.
The figure of 1,308 dogs used in 2004 is still very high for the limited practical applications that dogs can be used for. Beagles are the breed most often used by researchers because of their reputation as being friendly and gentle.
Meanwhile, cats are most commonly used animals in neurological research. In the UK as a whole in 2005, 308 cats were used. This is a decrease from 819 cats recorded in 2004.