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Cruelty Free International slams 'unacceptable levels of animal suffering' in UK laboratories

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Home Office statistics of the number of animals used in laboratories released today

Cruelty Free International has today slammed the 'unacceptable levels of suffering' inflicted on animals in UK laboratories and a failure by the Government to make any real progress in reducing the numbers of animals used. Information about the levels of suffering has come to light following the release by the Home Office of the Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain 2014. This is the first year that the statistics have been collected under the regime outlined by the European Directive (2010/63/EC) that governs the use of animals in experiments in the European Union.

According to the Home Office figures, a total of 3.87 million experiments were completed in the UK during 2014. Of these, 1.94 million (50%) related to the 'creation'/breeding of genetically altered animals who  were not used in further procedures and the remaining 1.93 million (50%) were experimental procedures. Animals used included mice (1.6 million), rats (234,000), birds (139,000), rabbits (13,876), guinea-pigs (22,027), monkeys (3,246), dogs (4,107), cats (210), horses (8,079) and fish (264,000).  

One requirement under the new regime is to include information on the severity of the experiments carried out. So, the number of animals (by species) are recorded using one of four categories - mild, moderate, severe, non-recovery. Disturbingly, of the severity assessments undertaken for the 1.93 million experimental procedures completed in 2014:

  • 9% (180 thousand) were assessed as sub-threshold;
  • 7% (133 thousand) were assessed as non-recovery;
  • 51% (980 thousand) were assessed as mild;
  • 25% (483 thousand) were assessed as moderate; and
  • 8% (150 thousand) were assessed as severe. 

Cruelty Free International, however, believes that these numbers still do not reflect the full picture of the distress, suffering and harm that is being inflicted on animals in the name of research. The organisation cites concerns over the way in which the severity assessment is carried out which it believes will underestimate the actual level of pain and suffering experienced by the animals. For example,  the assessment can be based on only a cursory ‘look’ at the animal though the sides of the Perspex cage. Furthermore, non-experimental harms are not included in the severity assessment. For example, stress induced by housing, transport, marking such as ear notching and prior to and during an animal’s death. Other events that can cause harm but are considered unrelated to the experiment such as deaths due to a failure in the ventilation or water system, ‘natural’ disease or fighting injuries are also not counted.

Michelle Thew, Chief Executive, Cruelty Free International stated:

"The level of animal suffering, as revealed by these statistics, is shocking. However, we believe it still fails to accurately reflect the true picture of what is happening to the millions of animals used in UK laboratories. The UK should be leading the way in reducing animal testing, yet we remain one of the world’s largest users of animals in experiments. This lack of progress is completely unacceptable. We need to see meaningful and lasting changes for animals in laboratories.”

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