The UK Home Office has published its annual statistics showing the number of procedures carried out on animals covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986; this covers all vertebrate species. It shows that in 2014 there was a 6% fall in the number of procedures, from 4.12 million down to 3.87 million.
Overall, 96.5% of animals used in scientific studies were mice, rats, fish or birds. Cats, dogs and primates (which are offered special protections under UK law) together accounted for less than 0.2% of the total (similar to in previous years). The statistics also reveal that half of all experiments were the breeding of GM animals which were not used in further experiments. Overall, 2/3 of all experiments involved genetically modified animals.
Last year’s plateau, and this year’s fall are likely to reflect the economic conditions for biomedical research (though the number of procedures is likely to lag R&D spending as research funding can last several years. Below we see the R&D expenditure of pharmaceutical companies in the UK over the last decade (note that this does not include R&D by universities, who conduct almost twice as much animal research in the UK as pharmaceutical companies). Spending slowed in 2012, which may be reflected in the animal numbers for 2014.
The fall in numbers may also be in influenced by further adoption of the 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction. Home Office Minister, Lord Bates noted:
Today’s figures indicate the science community continues to respond to the Government’s firm commitment to adopting measures to replace, reduce and refine animal use.
Procedures on non-human primates stayed almost constant going from 3,236 procedures in 2013, to 3,246 in 2014. The number of procedures on cats fell 22% to 210 procedures and on dogs fell 14% to 4,107.
A ban on cosmetic testing on animals (1998) and of using great apes (gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees) in research (1986) meant both had zero procedures in 2014. There were 138 household product tests, all on rainbow trout for EU regulatory purposes. This comes after 2 years where no such tests have been done – household product testing on animals will be banned in November 2015.
For the first time the UK statistics include retrospective reporting of suffering. Rather than just submitting licence proposals to the Home Office that include estimated levels of suffering, the researchers now have to report on what was actually seen (using a variety of measures). Unfortunately the statistics put these in two separate tables (Table 3 and 8). So we have combined them to get severity for all procedures in 2014. We can see most experiments are sub threshold (28%; less than the introduction of a hypodermic needle) or mild (50%), with remainder as moderate (14%), severe (5%) or non-recovery (3.5%; the animal never awakes from anaesthesia).
It is important to note that in line with new EU requirements, the UK now reports animals used in studies completed, not started in the given year. The statistical release says:
As a result of the change to counting procedures completed as opposed to procedures started, all procedures started before 2014 but completed in 2014 should be in both the pre-2014 and 2014 figures. Any procedures started in 2014 but completed after 2014 will not be included in the 2014 figures. It is expected that these opposing effects will partly cancel each other out. Any impact of the change from counting procedures started to counting procedures completed will be temporary and will disappear from future years’ data collections.
As a result, the 2014 data and comparisons with previous years’ data should be interpreted with some caution.
Speaking of Research congratulate the UK government on continuing to produce the most comprehensive statistics on animal experiments worldwide. It is also important to note that these statistics are released as a press conference each year where representatives from the scientific community speak about the importance of animals in research.
Speaking of Research
Find more on the stats here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/469508/spanimals14.pdf
Read last year’s release here: https://speakingofresearch.com/2014/07/10/animal-experiments-in-the-uk-government-releases-2013-statistics/