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Petitions

Volume 560: debated on Friday 22 March 2013

Petition

Friday 22 March 2013

OBSERVATIONS

Home Department

Alternatives to vivisection

The Petition of Derek Hector of 68 Heol y Forlan, Whitchurch, Cardiff, CF14 IBA and others,

Declares that the Petitioners consider that vivisection is dangerous to humans since drugs that have been passed for human use following testing on animals have later been found to have caused birth defects, organ failure and death; further that vivisection needlessly kills hundreds of thousands of animals and that vivisection delays the development of safe advances in medical, surgical and veterinary progress. It also declares that vivisection is a huge cost to tax payers, Cardiff University having spent more than £1.5 million during 2011 on the use of animals in experiments and that this is unacceptable when there are other 450 viable alternatives to vivisection which give far more accurate results.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring forward proposals for ending animal experimentation throughout Great Britain, including at Cardiff University.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jonathan Evans, Official Report, 26 February 2013; Vol. 559, c. 286 .]

[P001156]

Observations from the Secretary of State for the Home Department:

The development of drugs and medical technologies that help to reduce suffering among humans and animals depends on the carefully regulated use of animals for research. We respect the fact that people have strong ethical objections to the use of animals in scientific procedures. We have legislated so experimentation is only permitted when there is no alternative research technique and the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects.

Animal experimentation is an area in which Government policy must recognise a wide range of opinions. Our current policy is based on the belief that there are real benefits to man, animals and the environment that can, at present, be achieved only with the use of animals, but it reflects the need for all animal use to be fully justified, and for animal suffering to be minimised. Any suffering must be carefully weighed against the potential benefits. Those are the foundations of our current legislation. That approach reflects closely what the public want.

We must also ensure that we can maintain and further enhance our high standards, but at the same time we must avoid putting UK research at a competitive disadvantage compared with our counterparts in other member states. The potential health and economic benefits from new and innovative treatments are dependent on providing the right framework for the UK’s life sciences sector and university research base, which are vital national assets and critical to our long-term economic growth.

The National Health Service would be unable to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed, or validated, through research using animals. Almost every form of conventional medical treatment has relied, in part, on the study of animals. Asthma treatments, medicines for peptic ulcers, schizophrenia and depression, polio vaccine, kidney dialysis and transplants, are just a few examples.

In order for a medicinal product to be granted a licence, European legislation requires that the toxicity profile of the drug is defined in animal studies. At present, there are no laboratory methods available to replace animal testing of medicinal products completely.

Animal studies are considered to be an indispensable component in the assessment of the safety and efficacy of new treatments and therapies. In most cases, and because body systems in other mammals tend to work in similar ways to those in humans, animal tests can tell us a lot about how the human body will react to a new drug.

Results from animal studies are used to indicate possible risks to humans. Without animal testing potentially dangerous medicinal products would have to be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. This would be unacceptable. In addition, studies in animal models of disease can help to establish the potential efficacy in the drug-discovery phase of development. The design and content of animal studies have evolved as more predictive biomarkers are identified and incorporated.

Only about 10% of medical research involves animals. The vast majority of scientists who undertake animal experiments also use non-animal methods; it is a case of using the appropriate technique for the question being asked.

While we recognise the need to use animals in order to help develop potentially life-saving drugs and treatments, we also continue to work to reduce the use of animals in research. As part of this ongoing work, we will continue to promote measures that will “replace, reduce and refine” the use of animals in scientific testing.

The Coalition Agreement included a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research which is being delivered through a science-led programme led by the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an organisation with a strong record in reducing animal use. The NC3Rs closely involves Government Departments and agencies, the Home Office Inspectorate, the research community in both academia and industry, and others with relevant animal welfare interests.

The commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research is not just about reducing animal use in the UK but also improving animal welfare. It is about more innovation and better science. Industry is a key player in driving forward this objective.

The National Centre is closely involving many others in this delivery and the programme is focusing on refinement as well as reduction and replacement and is coordinating action to minimise and reduce animal use and suffering. The NC3Rs’ CRACK IT initiative and ARRIVE guidelines are key elements of its plans to deliver the commitment. CRACK IT, launched in 2011, aims to speed up the translation of new ideas, technologies and methods into practice by linking the identified needs of industry with those who may be able to develop 3Rs solutions.

The ARRIVE guidelines are intended to improve the reporting of animal research. Previous work by the NC3Rs showed that many publications lacked key information, which could limit their value in informing future scientific studies and policy. The Home Office is promoting the guidelines to project licence holders.

The NC3Rs has also launched its new Evaluation Framework, the first ever attempt to benchmark systematically the impact of 3Rs programmes. As well as enabling robust evaluation of the Centre’s work to replace, reduce and refine animal use, the Evaluation Framework has the potential to complement the Home Office annual statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals and become a barometer of the application of the 3Rs in the UK.