Every year millions of animals are used in scientific experiments for a range of substances including, medicine, detergents and food additives. However, in recent years the number of animals used for testing soared, sparking outrage from animal welfare charity the RSPCA.
Statistics released by the Home Office show that in over the past few years more scientific procedures were carried out on animals than in any year since 1991, representing six consecutive annual rises. Not surprisingly, the animal charity is calling for a crackdown on the use of animals in experiments.
However, instead of cutting back the number of animals used, the scientific community has steadily been increasing the number of animals it tests on over the past few years. The number of scientific procedures currently undertaken on animals is now 18 per cent higher than in 2000. In 2007, for example, the number of animals used in experiments was 3,125,826. This figure includes 3,125 primates, 5,648 dogs, 13,820 rabbits and 281 horses.
As a result, the RSPCA is urging everyone involved in the use of animals in experiments to significantly step up their efforts towards replacing or avoiding animal use. However the charity could have its work cut out until changes in the law support its sentiment.
Currently, by law, all new substances that may come into contact with humans, animals or the environment have to be tested to see whether they are ‘safe’. This includes all medicines and vaccines for humans and other animals, chemicals used in industry and agriculture, food additives and ingredients for household products and cosmetics. There are national and international regulatory bodies that set out how safety tests must be carried out and many of their current requirements for testing unfortunately involve animal use.
As a charity motivated by maintaining high standards of animal welfare, the RSPCA campaigns for the development and acceptance of alternative tests to replace animals.
RSPCA senior scientist Barney Reed says: “The RSPCA is extremely dismayed that the numbers have risen yet again. Whilst there are now positive signs of progress being made towards replacing the use of animals in some types of experiments, particularly in certain areas of safety testing, much more clearly needs to be done across the board.”
The animal charity believes that not enough is being done by the government to help combat the rise in animal testing numbers.
“Scientists and the government repeatedly state that animals are only used where absolutely necessary. Yet with the numbers going up yet again the public will quite rightly question this statement,” says Reed.
The consistent rises are largely due to the increasing use of genetically modified (GM) animals, says the charity. Their use is five times higher than in 1995 and they are now involved in 36 per cent of all regulated procedures.
“Genetic manipulation has the potential to cause suffering not only to the GM animals themselves, but also to the many animals used to produce them. The RSPCA considers that the application of GM technology is excessive. We must question whether creating all these GM animals is really necessary and justified,” he says.
The RSPCA campaigns for the development and acceptance of alternative tests to replace animals. The society urges governments, industry and scientists to set out a comprehensive, properly funded and internationally coordinated strategy for replacing or avoiding animal experiments.
“Numbers alone can never convey the ways in which animals can suffer and it is important that the nature and level of suffering is also made clear – the public should know what experiments really mean for the animals concerned. Despite repeated calls from the RSPCA for the Home Office figures to be made more meaningful, we are still waiting,” he adds.