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Northern Ireland statistics show big increase in animal testing

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We call on authorities to take steps to reverse worrying trend

Official statistics released by the Northern Ireland Department of Health in October show a 29% increase in tests on animals in 2021. There were 29,221 tests, rising from 22,707 in 2020. This includes 206 tests on pigs and 61 on beagles.

Animal testing numbers in Northern Ireland have steadily increased over the last ten years and reached an all-time high in 2021, with an increase of 58% since 2012. This is a deeply concerning trend, yet the report provides no explanations.

The 2021 figures show that 62% of experiments caused moderate or severe suffering to the animals involved, compared to 55% in 2020. According to the relevant legislation, examples of severe suffering include surgery expected to result in severe post-operative pain, inescapable electric shock and inducing toxicity to the point of death.

8,650 experiments were conducted in 2021 for the purposes of basic research. This is curiosity-driven research designed to answer questions that researchers speculate might be medically useful in the future. Despite this speculation, basic research experiments often fail to deliver useful results – our analysis of key animal-based “breakthroughs” that had been reported by the UK media 25 years earlier found that only one of 27 breakthroughs had been realised in humans, and that was subject to several caveats.

In 2021, there were 643 regulatory tests. These are standardised tests designed to see if products like medicines and chemicals are safe and effective. In these experiments, animals are forced to eat or inhale substances, have them applied to their skin, or injected into their bodies. The animals are then subjected to further monitoring and testing before almost always being killed, so that researchers can look at the effects on their tissues and organs.

Our Director of Government & Regulatory Affairs, Kerry Postlewhite, said: “Northern Ireland’s animal testing figures appear to be increasing year on year, when they should be moving in the other direction. We urge those responsible for licensing animal experiments to think carefully about how they can reverse this worrying trend.”

If you live in the UK, you can urge your Member of Parliament to support an ambitious action plan to end animal experiments. Use our quick and easy tool to contact them and ask them to add their signature to a motion currently tabled in parliament.