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Animal experiments up again

THE NUMBER of scientific experiments on animals in the UK rose four per cent in 2006, driven by increased use of genetically altered mice, the Government announced at the end of July.

Scientists increasingly use engineered animals in order to better understand how genes function in search of better treatments for a wide range of illnesses in humans.

Britain’s drugs industry, including global leaders such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc argue such research is vital to medical progress but critics argue it subjects animals to painful and cruel experiments.
Mice, rats and other rodents made up the vast majority of the 2.95 million animals used in about 3.01 million experiments over the past year, according to annual figures from Britain’s Home Office.

Dogs, cats, horses and primates accounted for less than one percent of experiments, which reached a 15-year high, the Government said. However, even though the percentage may be small against the overall total, both the numbers of individual dogs and cats used in experiments in 2006 increased. The number of dogs increased by 4.3 per cent to 5,604. The number of cats increased by 13.6 per cent to 350.

John Richmond, head of the scientific procedures division of the Home Office, said the report shows a steady increase in the use of genetically altered animals - a trend he sees continuing as researchers learn more about the human genome.

‘We expect it to increase further because the network has been put in place for more and more work on genetically altered animals,’ Mr Richmond told a news conference.

In 2006, genetically modified animals were used in 1.04 million regulated experiments, representing an eight percent rise on a year ago and more than quadrupling since 1995.
Britain along with Germany and France has the highest number of experiments conducted on animals in the European Union.

The issue is a highly charged one in Britain where animal rights activists have carried out a prolonged campaign against animal research.

The latest rise in animal experiments was condemned by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which last month launched a court case against the Government for ignoring its duty to keep suffering caused to animals by experiments to a minimum.

BUAV Chief Executive Michelle Thew said: ‘The Government’s handling of the entire animal experiment licensing system is deeply flawed. The Home Office is this week charged in a Judicial Review at the High Court with ignoring its duty to ensure laboratory animal suffering is kept to a minimum and pulling the wool over the public’s eyes about the numbers of experiments that cause substantial animal suffering in laboratories up and down the UK.

‘The fact that the numbers of animals used in experiments jumped by four per cent in 2006 – the greatest increase in five years, and the highest number since 1991 – goes to prove the lie that the Government is putting its ‘best efforts’ into reducing the numbers of animals used in experiments.

‘It’s high time the Government woke up to public concern on this issue by demonstrating real political will to take steps to end the suffering caused by animal experiments in the UK. At the very least the public should expect is a long overdue open and honest public debate.’