A small but significant increase in the number of animal experiments in Great Britain in 2013 has caused dismay among certain groups who have accused the UK government of breaking its promises.

Home Office figures have been released which reveal the number of animal procedures has risen to 4.12 million despite a Government pledge to reduce animal use. This represents an increase of nearly 11,600 procedures started in 2013 compared to 2012, up just 0.3% compared with 2012, while the number of animals used slipped 0.4% to around 4.02 million.

However, it is still “shocking and unacceptable that animal experiments in Great Britain continue to rise”, according to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. It notes that more animal experiments were carried out in 2013 than at any point since the new statistics regime was introduced in 1986.

The Home Office analysis shows that 71% of experiments were conducted without any anaesthesia being given to the animal, while tests that constituted breeding genetically modified animals and those with a harmful mutation rose 51% in 2013. There was an increase in the number of non-human primates – up 1% to 2,202 animals used in 3,236 experiments (up 7%) and BUAV noted that they can involve implanting electrodes or causing brain lesions/damage. They are also used in toxicity testing which “inflicts considerable suffering and distress”.

More dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and horses used
There was a large increase in the number of dogs, up 11% to 3,554 animals used and a doubling of the use of guinea pigs – up 107% to 26,342. There were significant hikes in the use of rabbits and horses and BUAV noted that the number of full time equivalent Home Office inspectors is now 15.7 - down 11% from 18 last year; this means each inspector is responsible for supervising 262,521 experiments per year.

Michelle Thew, BUAV chief executive, said the government “has now failed for a third year on its 2010 post-election pledge to work to reduce the number of animals used in research and, as a result, millions of animals continue to suffer and die in our laboratories”. She added that the UK “should be leading the way in reducing animal testing, yet we remain one of the world’s largest users of animals in experiments”.

Her view was echoed by Troy Seidle, Humane Society International’s director of research and toxicology. He said that figure rising beyond four million “is a devastating blow for animal welfare, but it also represents a crisis for the quality of our medical research because it shows we’re still locked in to failing animal models that can delay medical progress”.

Mr Seidle argues that “much of our research is dominated by animal models of human disease that simply don’t work, and that has to change if we want better quality medicine. In years to come we will look back on this era of animal experiments and wonder why we tolerated it for so long”.

As for the drugmakers, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry chief executive Stephen Whitehead said the number of animals used in the procedures carried out “should be seen in the context that such research is contributing to the many of the medical advances we now take for granted in areas such as diabetes, asthma and HIV.  It is also critical to the development of the next generation of medicines”.

He went on to note that over half of all procedures relate to the breeding of genetically modified animals, even where the animals experience no further research procedures. Mr Whitehead also stated that “the dynamic collaboration between the ABPI and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is entering its tenth year. Through this collaboration we will continue to sustain and further cultivate the innovative work and valuable outputs that have been produced so far”.