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expert reaction to the annual statistics on the use of animals in scientific procedures in the UK for 2020

The annual statistics relating to scientific procedures performed on living animals in the UK in 2020 have been published today.


Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive, Understanding Animal Research (UAR), said:

“Animal research has been essential to the development and safety testing of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Macaque monkeys and ferrets have been used to develop vaccines, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, hamsters are being used to develop treatments, and guinea pigs are used to quality-check each batch of vaccines. Animal testing provided scientists with initial data that the vaccines were effective and safe enough to move into human clinical trials. During these trials, thousands more humans than animals were used to test how effective and safe the vaccines were in people. The pandemic has led to increased public interest in the way vaccines and medicines are developed and UAR has worked with research institutions and funding bodies throughout the UK to develop resources that explain to the public how animals have been used in this critical research.”


Prof Dominic Wells, Professor in Translational Medicine, Royal Veterinary College, and Chair of the Animals Sciences Group of the Royal Society of Biology, said:

“Last year there were 2.88 million experimental animal procedures (this is usually higher than the number of animals used, as under certain conditions an animal may be reused). A procedure is defined as anything that causes pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to or greater than the insertion of a hypodermic needle in accordance with good veterinary practice (for example a vaccination). This is the threshold.

“The number of procedures was down 15% compared to 2019 and the lowest number since 2004. The reduction in procedures most likely reflects the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many institutions delaying or stopping studies using experimental animals.

“1.44 million (50%) were experimental procedures and 1.44 million (50%) involved the generation or breeding of Genetically Altered (GA) animals. Even if the genetic modification causes no harm (i.e. is below threshold), breeding natural mutants or genetically engineered animals is counted as a procedure.

“92% of procedures were carried out on mice, fish or rats. Experimental procedures were 57% mice, 13% fish, 14% rats, 9% birds, 6% other species and 1% specially protected species. Procedures for GA animals were 86% mice, 13% fish, 0.7% rats and 0.3% other species. The specially protected species are non-human primates, horses, dogs and cats and applications to work with these species undergo additional scrutiny.

“53% of experimental procedures were for the purpose of basic research, most commonly focusing on the immune system, the nervous system, and cancer. 33% of experimental procedures were for regulatory purposes, an increase from 26% in 2019.

“The actual severity of experimental procedures on animals were 89% sub-threshold, mild or moderate, only 4% were severe and 7% were non-recovery (where the animals does not wake up after anaesthesia).

“The actual severity of procedures for the generation and breeding of GA animals were 98% sub-threshold, mild or moderate, only 2% were severe and less than 0.1% were non-recovery. 73% of procedures were sub-threshold.

“Mild severity is the equivalent of an injection or having a blood sample taken, moderate severity is greater than transient pain (for example surgery under anaesthesia followed by painkillers during recovery), severe suffering is something that we would not wish to endure (for example a heart attack). Animals found dead are commonly classified as severe as pre-mortality suffering often cannot be assessed. Most severe procedures arise in regulatory testing such as evaluation of toxicity of drugs.”


Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Biology, said:

“The use of animals in research plays an essential role in advancing our knowledge of biology and our understanding of diseases in humans and other animals.

“In the past year, SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus of zoonotic origin, spread throughout the world causing a pandemic, which affected human health and livelihoods.

“The use of laboratory animals to model COVID-19 disease and to test the efficacy and safety of the vaccines must be highlighted today, as well as the effort carried out by UK life scientists and technicians to understand and counteract the virus.

“Our preparedness for future pandemics will depend on a reinforced commitment to restore wild ecosystems and to adopt a one-health approach for plant, animal and human health.

“The Royal Society of Biology supports the use of animals in research when no alternatives are available, and is committed to promoting openness and transparency in reporting the use of animals for scientific purposes.”


Dr Maria Kamper, Director of the Biological Services Facility, University of Manchester, said:

“It is well established that because of animal research and novel animal models, we are able to alleviate or even eliminate the impact of devastating diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart failure and infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and SARS. Here at The University of Manchester, we strive to understand disease mechanisms through the study of immunology, biology and stem cells and to develop innovative treatments by using animals only when there is no alternative method available. We have a culture of care permeating every step of our research processes.”


Dr Jennifer Harris, Head of Research Policy, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said:

“Advances in computer modelling, cell cultures and study design have all led to fewer animals being used year-on-year in medical research. The use of animals remains an essential part of research, including in developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The pharmaceutical industry remains committed to replacing, reducing and refining the numbers of animals used in research and continuing to play our role in finding viable alternatives.”



Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain, 2020’ was published by the Home Office on 15th July 2021.



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Wendy Jarrett: “No conflicts of interest.”

None others received.

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