August 18th 2021
In 2021, the EU released a report, for “statistics on the use of animals for scientific purposes by the Member States of the European Union and Norway in 2018”. These data follow the changes in reporting for the 2015-2017 interim report. Comparison of the data from the interim report and from the 2018 report to the previously produced seven reports (1991-2011) is ill-advised because those reports were compiled under Directive 86/609/EEC, where there was little harmonization of guidelines between EU member states. Additionally, the number of member states in the EU has changed across the seven previous reports, ranging from 10-27, and so the comparison of these data in absolute terms is inaccurate/fallacious.
The main differences between the previous reporting guidelines and the current ones are:
- The scope includes all species of Cephalopods and the creation and maintenance (breeding) of genetically altered animals.
- Reporting the use of an animal for scientific purposes occurs at the end of such use (e.g., end of an experiment for singly used animals).
- Each use of an animal is recorded, both the number of uses and details thereof.
- Genetic status of the animals.
- The actual severity experienced by an animal during a procedure is one of the key novelties of the new report.
Importantly the report states:
“In some cases, the numbers referred to in the Member State narratives may differ from those shown in the respective Member State data tables. This is due to the fact that some Member States when having compiled the narratives, have not distinguished animals used directly in research and testing from those used for the creation and maintenance of genetically altered animals but instead used the combined total numbers.
In addition, it is important to know that some Member States may require additional data to be reported at national level; for example, statistics on the number of animals killed for organs and/or tissue. Therefore, national statistical publications sometimes differ from the data reported to the Commission. To ensure that the data is harmonised and comparable at Union level, only the data required by Commission Implementing Decision 2020/569/EU are submitted for publication in the Union report.”
In total, 10,572,305 animals were used for the first time in 2018 while 232,542 animals were re-used in experimental procedures. In total, 592,077 animals were used in the creation and maintenance of genetically altered animals of which 0.7% (4,015) animals were reused for the same purpose. In total, 10,804,854 animals were used for the first time in 2018.
Thirty five categories of animal species were enumerated in this report—for full details of each category please see the original report. In 2018, the main species used for scientific purposes for the first time were comprised of mice, fish, rats, birds and rabbits which together represented 95.6% of all the animals used. Dogs, Cats and Non-human primates, often given particular public consideration, comprised 0.3% of all animals newly used in experimental procedures.
In contrast to the 2017 interim report, summary data for severity ratings were not provided in the 2018 report. The rationale for this is likely similar to the one given in the 2017 interim report:
“It is important to note that the reporting of actual severities is probably the most challenging element of the Directive to achieve consistent reporting within and between Member States as well as over time.”
We can also see how the numbers break down among EU members. France, Germany and the UK have the highest number of animals in research – they are also the three largest EU economies. Norway, who is not an EU member state is the fourth largest “user” of animals for research.