The fall in the number of experiments is mainly due to a reduction in the numbers of mice used. There was a significant rise in the number of fish (+35%) and birds (+29%) used. As well as rises in dogs (up 82% to 4,636 procedures) and primates (+31% to 2,842 procedures).
Mice continue to be the most commonly used species at 68%. Mice, rats and fish account for 91% of all animal procedures, rising to 95% if you include rabbits. This last point is interesting when compared to most other European countries where birds are the fourth most common species. Of countries we have assessed in Europe, only Spain uses a similar proportion of rabbits. Dogs, cats and primates accounted for less than 0.4% of all animals used despite the rises in number of procedures for these species.
This year was also the first year where there was retrospective assessment and reporting of severity (i.e. reporting how much an animal actually suffered rather than how much it was predicted to suffer prior to the study). The report showed that 60% of procedures were classed as mild, 21% as moderate, 6% as severe, and 13% as non-recovery, where an animal is anaesthetised for surgery, and then not woken up afterwards.
From historical statistics we can see that, like several other EU countries, the number of animal experiments rose steadily between 2000-12, before slowing and reversing in 2013-4. It is likely that some of this reflects the drop in science funding during the recession and economic turmoil of the past seven years. Such cuts to funding can often take some years to take effect as research projects often have agreed funding for several years.
This final number should be treated with some caution as it is the first year under the new EU reporting guidelines which requires retrospective reporting on severity, and now asks for numbers of procedures of studies ending in the reporting year (rather than starting). The UK statistical release (which follows the same EU guidelines) came with the following notes and word of caution:
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.
We will continue to report on national statistics as they are published.