August 17th 2021
The United Kingdom reports a wealth of information every year on its use of animals in research. Every animal procedure must be categorized according to the overall purpose (and specific disease area or regulatory purpose if relevant), the genetic status of the animals and the severity of the procedure. Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) conducts approximately 99.5% of procedures, which are regulated by and reported by the UK Home Office. Northern Ireland conducts the remaining 0.5% which is regulated and reported by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.
Animal Research in the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland)
Every year the Home Office releases the statistics on animal research in Great Britain (Northern Ireland released separately) for the preceding year. In 2020, the total number of procedures on animals was 2.88 million, down 15% from the 3.4 million in 2019.
The total number of animals used is quite likely lower as some animals were used for more than one procedure*. In 1987 the UK changed the way in which it counted animals, from the total number of animals to the total number of procedures. There was a further, smaller change to methodologies in 2014.
*The total number of animals excludes those animals first used in a previous year, which underwent a procedure in the current year, in order to prevent double counting of animals between years.
The last few years have seen the number of Genetically Altered animals (mainly GA mice) being bred rising as a proportion of all studies; this accounts for 50% of all procedures (in 2020). Other common uses included basic research (53%), regulatory purposes (33%), translational/applied research (14%) and for other purposes (1%).
Looking at the species used we can see, mice, rats, birds and fish account for over 96.28% of all procedures on animals in Great Britain. Dogs and cats account for 0.16% and primates account for around 0.08%. Invertebrates such as fruit flies and nematode worms are widely used by researchers but are not covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act and are thus not included. The only invertebrate included in the statistics are cephalopods, though none have been used in recent years.
The UK statistics include retrospective reporting of suffering. Rather than just submitting license 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 3.1 and 8). We have combined them to get severity for all procedures in 2019 – see definitions on page 15). It shows that 83.9% of procedures are sub-threshold, non-recovery or mild, and involved minimal pain or suffering for the animals. 13% of studies were moderate and 3% were severe.
~Speaking of Research