The number of animals used for biomedical research in Belgium rose by 3.1% year on year to 779,860 in 2007. Most of these experiments were on rodents and rabbits, which made up 92.0% of the total, reports the Belgian federal public health service.

Fish, reptiles and amphibians accounted for 5.7% of animals used for biomedical research last year, followed by birds ((1.7%), dogs (0.096%), cats (0.006%) and monkeys (0.005%).

There was a substantial fall of 80.6% in the number of primates subjected to biomedical testing in 2007, the health service notes. Large primates have not been used for years now and a royal decree banning the practice is in the pipeline. The number of birds used for biomedical research also declined significantly, by 19.8% against 2006.

Animal experiments are not allowed in Belgium unless there is no possibility of achieving the desired result without animals, the report stresses. However, it adds, alternative methods cannot always capture the full complexity of the human organism. It puts the small increase in the volume of animals used last year down to the growth in research on the mechanisms of human disease.

Of the total, 60.1% or 468,705 of the animals were used for the research, development or quality control of products and appliances used in human and veterinary medicine. Another 28.9% (225,372) animals were used for basic research; 6.7% (52,716) for toxicology and safety testing, mostly involving drugs and medical equipment; and 4.3% (33,534) for diagnosis, education and training.

A total of 382 laboratories were registered to conduct animal research in Belgium during 2007. The bulk of these laboratories (87%) belonged to universities while the private sector accounted for just 7% but used the most animals, the public health service points out.