Number of animals used in science increased slightly in 2013, Home Office reports

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 11 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4586
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. 1London

The number of animals used in scientific procedures has risen slightly despite a government pledge to reduce the use of animals in such experiments, Home Office statistics have shown.1 In 2013 4.12 million procedures were carried out on animals—an increase of 11 600 procedures (0.3%) on 2012.

Most procedures (51%) were undertaken to breed genetically modified animals or animals with a harmful genetic mutation. In 2013 2.1 million such procedures took place—123 200 (6%) more than in 2012. The remaining procedures (2.02 million) were for other purposes, mainly basic or applied science experiments with the goal of improving human or animal health.

This is a continuing trend. Since 1995 the number of animal procedures has increased by 52% (1.41 million), as a result of a huge rise in procedures undertaken to breed genetically modified animals or animals with a harmful genetic mutation (a 573% increase). Meanwhile, the number of procedures undertaken on animals for other purposes has decreased by 16%.

Roger Morris, acting head of the department of chemistry at King’s College, London, explained to a press conference that it was only through intensive breeding programmes of transgenic mice that models involving genetically modified mice could be created for the early stages of complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These models were essential to enable such conditions to be better understood so that treatments could be developed, he said.

In 2013 75% of procedures were undertaken on mice, 12% on fish, and 6% on rats. Procedures involving specially protected species—including dogs, non-human primates, cats, and horses—have fallen by 23% since 1995 and accounted for just 0.4% of procedures in 2013. The remaining procedures involved guinea pigs, sheep, rabbits, pigs, gerbils, reptiles, birds, amphibians, cattle, goats, and hamsters.

Troy Seidle, director of research and toxicology at Humane Society International, described the continued rise in the use of animals as “a devastating blow for animal welfare.”

Vicky Robinson, chief executive of NC3Rs—an initiative to replace or reduce the need for animals in research and testing—said that the headline figures did not provide any information on the experiments that had been avoided. “We are working at the heart of the UK’s scientific community to develop alternatives and change the way science is practised,” she said.

Judy MacArthur Clark, head of the Animals in Science Regulation Unit at the Home Office, told the press conference that enormous efforts were being made to ensure that animals were not used in research unnecessarily. She said, “For example, we used to use many thousands of animals each year in a relatively severe procedure for testing toxins in shellfish, and that was for human safety and for the nutritional safety of those shellfish. That has now been entirely replaced.”

She added that the unit was working closely with the manufacturers of many products to find alternative mechanisms to test their safety without using animals. Overall, the number of procedures undertaken for toxicology purposes to meet legislative or regulatory requirements fell by 0.5% to 375 000 procedures from 2012 to 2013.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4586


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