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Another sharp rise in reports of non-compliance with laws protecting animals in UK laboratories

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We are again calling on the government to ensure proper enforcement of the law protecting animals used in experiments in the UK after a 43% increase in reported cases of non-compliance with the law in 2022.

The annual report published by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) – the regulator which oversees the use of animals in research and testing in the United Kingdom – shows that in 2022, there were 175 reported cases of non-compliance across 51 different UK establishments.

We also calculate a shocking 420% increase in failures to provide adequate care for animals, including suitable facilities, safety measures and food and water, between 2018 and 2022.

There were many examples of animals being left without food or water for up to four days, leading in some cases to the death and euthanasia of the animals involved. In other instances, monkeys were deprived of water without authorisation, while another was not given the minimum daily fluid requirement.

Other recorded incidents include:

  • multiple cases of failing or faulty equipment leading to hundreds of deaths, including by drowning and poor ventilation
  • the deaths of mouse pups as a result of them being removed from their mother without authorisation or the mother being mistakenly killed
  • 710 mice being exposed to continuous light for up to 12 days
  • 35 animals, including a dog and 17 mice, allowed to live after the usual point for humane euthanasia had been passed
  • four pregnant mice being unintentionally used in procedures

The 2022 report reveals that a total of 16,062 animals were involved in the 175 cases of non-compliance, including a horse, two dogs, 53 monkeys, hundreds of rats and thousands each of chickens, fish and mice. 1,063 of those animals suffered ‘adverse welfare outcomes’.

78 cases were related to the failure to provide appropriate care for animals, with the other 97 failures to adhere to licensing guidelines.

The report reveals that the introduction of a new audit and inspection programme in 2021 has not stopped failings in the care of animals in laboratories. Under the new scheme, the Home Office performed audits of just 56 establishments, with only 4 ‘full systems audits’ conducted. The report also does not explain how many non-compliance cases were revealed by audits as opposed to being self-reported.

Since the ASRU report relies heavily on self-reporting, it seems very likely that many incidents remain unreported and unidentified. For comparison, in 2019 ASRU undertook 470 inspections of establishments where scientific work on animals was conducted. Moreover, the ASRU employed a total of just 25 people at the end of 2022, working an equivalent of 19.7 full-time employees which is three-and-a-half less than the 23.2 full-time equivalent employees in 2020.

We do not believe that the Home Office’s new audit approach and staffing levels are enough to identify the true picture of animals’ lives in laboratories.

The ASRU can issue fines for non-compliance, or bring a prosecution which could lead to a prison sentence, but in 70% of cases (123 of 175) in 2022, the only course of action was to issue advice from an Inspector. Just two cases resulted in re-training of staff, but neither of these cases were recognised as having caused harm or death to the animals involved.

Our Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, Dr Emma Grange, said: “Yet again, the cases in the ASRU report illustrate a long-running systemic failure to protect animals and a lack of care for or interest in the wellbeing of animals used in laboratories. The very least these animals, which are ultimately condemned to suffer and die in experiments, deserve is consideration for their welfare.

“We are renewing our call on the regulator to properly enforce the law – allowing animals to die though pure negligence should result in more serious consequences than a letter of advice. Furthermore, the suffering detailed in this latest report underlines the need to enforce the principle of testing on animals only as a last resort, and for accelerated transition to animal-free approaches in science."