The Home Office releases statistics of scientific procedures on animals each year. Numbers reached a minimum in 2001 at a little under 3 million, but have risen steadily since that point to their current level in excess of 4 million.
In 2013, (the most recent figures available) 4.12 million scientific procedures were started in Great Britain, an increase of 0.3 per cent (+11,600 procedures) compared with 2012. Of these procedures, 2.02 million (49%) were performed for purposes other than to breed genetically modified (GM) animals and animals with a harmful genetic mutation (HM)2, a decrease of 5 per cent (-111,600 procedures) compared with 2012. The remaining 2.10 million procedures (51%) were undertaken to breed GM and HM animals, an increase of 6 per cent (+123,200 procedures).
In the US, for example, experiments on mice, rats, other rodents and on birds, are not counted in statistics, even though these are among the most commonly used laboratory species. In the UK, surplus animals that are bred for, but not used in, experiments, and animals used to produce certain types of biological material are not counted.
– Studies where animals are used to understand human physiology and disease
– Studies that use animal models to test, develop or assess how safe products are
– Using animals to produce biological materials
– Whether there are other experiments that can provide the same type of information or;
– Animals that are used in experiments being treated as humanely as possible as long as harm can be kept to an ethically acceptable minimum and;
– Whether the cost to individual animals is outweighed by realisable tangible benefits to human or animal health
Research in animals has also led to the discovery of insulin used to treat human diabetes, and to the development of many surgical and implant procedures that are now used.
However, some scientists are starting to suggest that the differences between species might be the reason why cures for some human diseases are proving difficult to find. Animal results might be misleading. An estimated 90% of potential new drugs that have looked promising in animal trails fail when they are tested on humans.
In some cases, these studies have prevented a species from becoming extinct or endangered. A good example of this is research into hepatitis, which can obliterate whole populations of non-human primates.
More and more, pet owners looking for better treatment for their dog or cat are agreeing to take part in clinical studies.
Environmental toxicity testing still requires the use of some animals since estimating the risks to animals due to long term exposure in some simpler and cell-based systems is not definitive. However, a lot of progress has been made and such studies increasingly use larval and early life stage forms of fish rather than involve exposing sentient adult animals to potentially harmful substances.
However, until such time that we have non-animal experiments that are proven to be reliable ways of safeguarding all aspects of human and animal health, some animal experiments are unavoidable.
There are other more peaceful ways of protesting and getting your message across to proponents of animal testing. The best approach is to provide constructive, scientific solutions to the problems and ethical concerns, raised by animal experimentation.
The situation in other countries such as the US is less clear, although increasingly scientists conducting research attempt to implement humane practices.
Other replacement alternatives include the use of lower organisms to understand human diseases, and studies in human volunteers. The skin patch test is a good example of this.
In some cases, information can be used to generate computer models and virtual reality models of biological systems. These can be used to predict how a new substance may affect human health or physiology, or to look at the ways different biological systems interact.
Refinement alternatives include methods that make it possible to conduct less invasive studies in animals, such as sophisticated imaging techniques and methods that allow the best experimental design, such as statistical approaches.
Refinement alternatives focus on how the welfare of animals can be improved. These can include enriching the environments of laboratory animals so that it more closely resembles that of the animal’s natural environment. Providing exploratory toys, climbing frames, nesting material and group housing, are all examples of refinement.
By demonstrating and video links, combined with using virtual dissection tools, it is possible to reduce dramatically the number of animals used in schools and other teaching institutions.