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UK’s 2020 figures show much more needs to be done to reduce and replace animal experiments

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Our in-depth analysis reveals why our #TargetZero campaign is urgently needed

Last week saw the government publish UK animal testing figures for 2020.

Although there has been a welcome drop in the total number of animal experiments of 15% from 3.4 million to 2.9 million, the government itself admits that this is largely explained by two national lockdowns. There is sadly no evidence at all that the reduction is due to any concerted effort by government and other stakeholders to transition away from reliance on unreliable and cruel animal testing.

In particular, 2020 saw a depressing rise in the number of experiments involving dogs (up by 3%), cats (up by 11%), rabbits (up by 11%) and horses (up by 3%).

Below we share a more in-depth breakdown of what lies behind these headline figures, underlying the urgency of our #TargetZero call for a concrete, ambitious plan to bring animal testing to an end in the UK.

Experiments on dogs

The use of dogs in experiments in the UK has decreased by only 5% over the past decade, from 4,552 tests in 2011 to 4,340 in 2020. This is despite significant strides forward in animal-free science over the same period and clear opposition from the public. The government’s own commissioned Ipsos Mori survey on UK public attitudes to animal testing in 2018 showed that 86% of people find it unacceptable to test on dogs for the purpose of medical research, even where that research is said to be for the benefit of human health, and 87% find it unacceptable to test on dogs for environmental research (to look at the effects of chemicals on the food chain or the air pollution etc.).

The new statistics reveal that nine experiments on dogs were carried out to satisfy industrial chemicals legislation, compared to none in 2019). We do not yet know why these tests were done, but we are asking for an explanation from ministers.

A shocking 115 experiments were conducted on dogs to satisfy plant protection product legislation (which is likely to include pesticides testing). There were 46 such tests in 2019 so this figure has risen by 150% over the course of a year.


Chemicals testing

There were 59,613 tests for industrial chemicals legislation in 2020, up by a startling 64% from 2019. This includes:

  • A really significant increase (375%) in the number of skin sensitisation tests on mice to 452 tests in 2020, compared to 95 tests in 2019. These tests should not be happening at all as validated animal-free alternatives have been in place for a number of years. We will be asking government for an explanation and urging them – now that the UK is running its own chemical safety laws – to ensure that no animal tests are taking place to satisfy this system where validated alternatives already exist.

We’ve been campaigning hard to make sure that animal tests do not take place where there are validated alternatives and it’s good to see that these numbers have dropped, however animals are still being used where the test numbers really should now be zero. For example:

    • There was a 56% decrease in eye irritation tests compared to 2019 (7 tests)


    • There was an 87% decrease in skin irritation tests since 2019 (11 tests)


    • No pyrogenicity tests were reported in 2019 or 2020.

There was a 7% decrease in batch potency tests on mice, however huge numbers of mice are still being used and in tests that cause severe suffering (68,108 tests). We believe that this is mostly botulinum toxin batch testing for which, again, there is a non-animal alternative method which means that this testing should no longer be permitted.

There were 301 experiments for industrial chemicals that were designed to be used in household products. This is a 349% increase from the 67 tests declared in 2019. This is despite a commitment in the 2010 Coalition Government pledge – which included the governing Conservative Party – to end the testing of household products and their ingredients on animals.

Tests on non-human primates

This is the first year that the UK government, following our request, has separated out the generation status of monkeys from the type of colony they come from. This is important as it enables us to track whether monkeys are truly from so-called breeding colonies and are not still linked to capture from the wild. It’s a step forward that all monkeys used for the first time in 2020 came from these self-sustaining colonies, but there is still more that can be done to ensure a move away from the use of first-generation animals:

  • 79% (1,354 primates) were from at least the second generation which means that their grandparents or earlier were wild caught.
  • 21% (364 primates, all cynomolgus macaques) used came from a wild-caught parent.

The number of tests on old world monkeys (macaques) has increased by 8% over the past 10 years, from 2011 (2,124) to 2020 (2,289) and devastatingly, 24% of experiments conducted on monkeys caused what the law defines as moderate or severe suffering.

Small animals

In 2020, 54% of experiments on guinea pigs caused moderate or severe suffering to the animals involved (1,552 severe experiments and 1,714 moderate experiments).

Experiments on rats (208,610) and other rodents (1,229) have increased by 22% and 36%, respectively. The government classifies other rodents as wild rodents and voles.

Our Director of Science, Dr Katy Taylor said: “There’s a lot more to the 2020 figures than the headline reduction! We’re calling on the government to use the 2020 lockdown decrease as a launchpad for much-accelerated year-on-year decreases and a concerted phase-out effort. Animals in laboratories can’t wait. We will also be using our analysis to ask specific questions of ministers, highlighting areas of animal testing which even the government would admit should not still be happening.”

If you live in the UK, please sign and share our #TargetZero petition to help bring animal testing to an end once and for all.