Committee calls for more guidance on animal experimentsBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7502.1226-a (Published 26 May 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1226
Committee calls for more guidance on animal experimentsLondon Madeleine Brettingham
The Home Office must make available clear and accessible information on the degree and length of suffering experienced by animals involved in scientific research in the United Kingdom. This is the conclusion of a panel of experts brought together by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to debate the ethical issues raised by animal experimentation.
The report, published this week, paid particular attention to the predicament of animals undergoing genetic modification. The number of such procedures, which involve removing individual genes from laboratory subjects, usually mice, to discern their purpose, stood at 764 000 in 2003. This was a quarter of the total number of experiments involving animals, and the number of such experiments is expected to continue to grow.
Professor Steve Brown of the Medical Research Council’s Mouse Genome Centre said these procedures were "undeniably useful in increasing scientific knowledge … but we need to understand how it impacts on the welfare of the new animals which are created and also its translatability in terms of human biology and disease."
Approximately 2.72 million animals were used in scientific experiments in the UK in 2003, for purposes ranging from safety tests to advanced scientific research. The working party recommended that the government focus on reducing the number of such experiments and replacing them with tested alternatives, although the panel’s chairwoman, Baroness Perry of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, admitted that "it is unrealistic to expect that animal experiments will be eradicated in the near future."
Representatives on the panel, who included antivivisectionists, scientists, and philosophers, produced a package of recommendations, among which was that the Home Office should make its Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Animals, an annual update on the nature and number of animal experiments conducted in the UK, clearer and more accessible to the public.
"The general consensus is that they can do better in terms of data," said Dr Timothy Morris of GlaxoSmithKline’s Laboratory of Animal Science and a member of the panel. Funds should also be made available to produce educational materials to allow the subject to be debated in schools. "Our aim is to raise the quality of the debate," said Baroness Perry. "Children should be able to make an informed decision."
The Home Office has already agreed to publish an annual summary of scientific projects licensed by the government. Meanwhile Professor Brown called for a national body to encourage research into alternative methods of experimentation. David Thomas of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection criticised the current lack of funding for this purpose: "The animal procedures committee spends £280 000 [$510 000; €410 000] a year looking into reduction and replacement of tests—in the context of a science budget of millions."
Baroness Perry said she hoped the document would contribute to a more reasoned and intelligent debate and that both sides would realise that "there is not a demon on the other end of the pole."
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