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Living Animals (Scientific Procedures)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

I wish to respond to the publication entitled “Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals—Great Britain—2006, which is being presented as a Command Paper (7153) today. Copies will be placed in the House Library.

This annual report meets the requirement in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to keep Parliament informed about the use of animals for experimental or other scientific purposes. It also forms the basis for meeting periodic reporting requirements at EU level. Some changes have been made to improve the contents and layout of this publication; in particular a more concise report with just the key tables is available in hard copy and supplementary information with additional tables is available on the Home Office website.

The report shows an overall increase over the previous year of 4 per cent. in the number of procedures undertaken. The total number of procedures was 3.01 million, an increase of 115,800 over the previous year. There has now been a relatively small increase for the fifth year running; it is the highest total since 1992 and marks an overall 15 per cent. increase since 2001. A number of factors, investment in research and development and strategic priorities determine the overall level of scientific procedures

Non-toxicological procedures accounted for about 86 per cent. of the procedures carried out. These included fundamental research in human and veterinary medicine to improve understanding of disease mechanisms and possible therapeutic options, and development of vaccines. Most toxicological studies were for the safety and efficacy testing of new drugs and medicines.

Procedures for toxicological purposes accounted for the remaining 14 per cent. of all procedures. About 74 per cent. of these were for testing the safety and efficacy of new drugs and medicines. In keeping with previous years, those procedures that used mice or rats (or other rodents) were the great majority at 83 per cent. Those using fish amounted to 9 per cent. and those using birds, 4 per cent. The total of all procedures using dogs, cats, horses and non-human primates, that is those species offered special protection by the Act, was less than 1 per cent. of the total.

Genetically normal animals were used in about 1.65 million regulated procedures, representing 55 per cent. of all procedures for 2006 (compared with 57 per cent. in 2005 and 84 per cent. in 1995). Genetically modified animals (nearly all rodents) were used in 1.04 million regulated procedures representing 34 per cent. of all procedures for 2006 (compared with 33 per cent. in 2005 and 8 per cent. in 1995).

Advances in the opportunities to use genetically altered animals for new areas of biomedical research means that the trend of increased production and use of genetically altered animals has continued. It allows a more precise and often less invasive study of physiological processes and disease mechanisms than was previously possible. Most of the animals concerned are mice, which appear and live as normal. Many are only used in breeding programmes.

The licensing system is demand led and the 1986 Act provides the Home Office, as regulator, with no mechanism for reducing animal use. Instead the Act requires that animal use is kept to a minimum. In addition, the procedures authorised must cause the minimum possible suffering to the smallest number of animals of the least sentience. The Act also requires that, before a project licence is issued, we must weigh the benefits to humans, other animals, or the environment against the costs to the animals involved. A licence cannot be granted if the work could be carried out without using animals.

The report and supplementary information can be found at: