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expert reaction to the release of the annual Home Office statistics on animal research

The Home Office has released its latest statistics on the number of animals used in research. These comments accompanied a briefing.

All our previous output on this subject can be seen here.


Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust, said:

“This year’s figures from the Home Office are another step forward for all those who, like the Wellcome Trust, are committed to greater openness about animal research.  Many of the advances in medicine that we rely on every day have been made possible by knowledge gained from animal experiments, and we supports the continued use of animals in research when alternative methods are not available and where the potential benefits to human and animal health are compelling. The extra level of detail in today’s figures follows calls from those working within the scientific community, and others, to continue to be more transparent. In fact, the UK is one of the first member countries in the European Union to publish severity classifications about all the animal procedures carried out within its borders, and we hope that today signals a decisive moment for the openness agenda in Europe.”


Dr Virginia Acha, Executive Director of Research, Medical and Innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said:

“Animal research continues to plays a vital role in bio-medical research, helping us to better understand and improve the treatment of debilitating and life threatening disease in both humans and animals. This research has contributed to the introduction of safe and effective medicines for diseases including cancer, diabetes, and HIV, saving millions of lives worldwide. There are currently no in-vitro or computer models which can currently eradicate the need for all animal testing in the development of new medicines.

“It is important to note that the numbers of animals used was calculated differently in 2014, in line with new EU legislation which aims to regulate and improve standards across Europe.  Therefore it is not possible to accurately compare the figures with previous years.

“We fully support the publication of actual severity information for the first time as we believe that this further increases transparency and will help facilitate open and informed debate on the use of animals in bio-medical research.

“By law the use of animals in research must be in line with the 3Rs which aims to replace animals with non-animal techniques or less sentient species, reduce numbers used and refine procedures as much as possible in order to reduce harm. The ABPI and our members remain committed to the 3Rs, and our collaboration with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research is now in its 11th year.”


Ms Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive, Understanding Animal Research, said:

“This new way of reporting the actual experience of every animal involved in research in Great Britain is very much to be welcomed. For the first time we can see what each animal actually experienced in terms of discomfort, pain or suffering. We now know that in over 80% of the 3.87 million procedures counted, the animal suffered nothing more than the equivalent of a single vaccination. Interestingly, the majority of procedures that were designated as ‘severe’’ were for regulatory toxicology, so were required by law rather than being research undertaken to discover how the body works, or to try out potential new treatments for the first time.”

“It’s heartening to see the numbers coming down, but we will need to look at next year’s statistics before we can talk about definite trends. Animals do still need to be used to find out how the body works, why diseases occur and what treatments might potentially cure or alleviate those diseases. Practically every modern medicine we have for human and veterinary use has been developed and tested using animal research. Recent developments in allowing paralysed people to walk again, restoring eyesight, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and the first successful treatments for Ebola, to name but a very few, were all researched in animals before going into human trials.”


Roger Lemon & Chris Petkov, on behalf of the Expert Group for NHP Neuroscience Research in the UK:

“The new format of the Annual Statistics is really important, because, for the first time, research institutions are being asked to return not only the number of procedures carried out in different animal species in 2014 but also the impact of these procedures on the animals used. These data are important because the general public needs to know the level of any suffering involved in the pursuit of new scientific, medical and veterinary knowledge. As scientists carrying out basic research using non-human primates, we are pleased to see confirmation of the fact that the overwhelming majority of 269 monkeys used in this type of research actually experienced either a Mild (48%) or Moderate (46%) level of severity, and only 2% were rated as Severe. Thus the decision to fund, licence and carry out this research does not inflict severe welfare costs on the primates used. The picture presented today is far removed from that suggesting that research UK labs in non-human primates requires the highest level of Severity in Home Office licencing. Of course, research scientists, vets and animal technologists have worked very hard to apply the 3Rs in their laboratories in order to try to ameliorate any adverse effects.”


Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), said:

“The new format for the UK annual animal statistics provides greater clarity and transparency on the numbers of animals used and the suffering they experience. This is to be welcomed by all involved. The headline overall number of animals used is down, however at this stage it is hard to know whether this is a reflection of the new reporting system or a real trend. Either way it is fair to say that there is much more to do in terms of minimising numbers and reducing suffering in scientific research involving animals.”


Prof. Christopher Petkov, Professor in Comparative Neuropsychology, Newcastle University, said:

“The Home Office publication of statistics of scientific procedures in animals (2014) show a stable or slight decline in the use of research animals in the UK. It also reveals that ~50% of the 3.87M animal procedures were for breeding genetically altered animals, which are not used again. So the numbers of animals undergoing scientific procedures is much less than the overall numbers, and considerably lower than the peak in the 1970’s of 5.5M animals.

“Notably, work in nonhuman primates is less than 0.8% in the specially protected species grouping, and most of these are used for regulatory procedures, thus do not reflect the very small proportion used by universities. For the first time the publication reports on severity of procedures and it is notable that the majority of animal procedures are classified as mild. Fewer procedures are classified as moderate and very few animals experienced severe procedures.”


Mr Kirk Leech, Executive Director, European Animal Research Association (EARA), said:

“The use of animals in research is crucial to develop the knowledge underpinning many scientific and medical advances. As specified in the Directive 2010/63, all member states have to report their annual statistics. The release of the statistics provides the scientific community with a fantastic opportunity to inform the public and politicians about the continued need for animals in research. Other member states, and the wider European scientific community, could learn from the approach piloted in the UK of working with the media to improve understanding of animal research.”


Mr Steve Bates, Chief Executive, UK Bioindustry Association (BIA), said:

“The BIA remains strongly committed to the three Rs: replacement, refinement and reduction of animal testing, and we will continue to support and encourage our members to openly communicate their activities in this area.

“Animal research is a mandatory part of developing innovative medicines and has contributed to a wealth of medical advances that benefit both humans and animals.  By sharing best practice examples of animal testing that improve or save lives, we can proactively demonstrate to the wider public how the insight and understanding gleaned from research in animals is used to develop new treatments.”


Prof. Roger Lemon, Sobell Chair of Neurophysiology at UCL, on behalf of the Expert Group for NHP Neuroscience Research in the UK, said:

“For the first time, the Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures, published on 22nd October, will provide information not only on the number of procedures, but also on the impact of these procedures on the animals used. These impacts will be scaled using severity levels mandated by the new EU Directive (2010) and incorporated into the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA) in 2013. Severity levels range from ‘Mild’ to ‘Moderate’ to ‘Severe’, and the Home Office provides examples of procedures that are judged to belong to these different categories.

“Research scientists, animal technologists and named veterinary surgeons are now required by law to make a Retrospective Assessment of the overall severity level for each animal used. The statistics reported today are for procedures that were completed in 2014.

“The new reporting format is of particular importance for the use of non-human primates (NHPs). Although procedures involving NHPs represent a tiny fraction of the total (0.08% in 2013), research involving monkeys always attracts particular scrutiny.

“Scientists using NHPs in biomedical neuroscience research keep the general public informed about experiments they are currently undertaking. This is, in part, in accordance with the new Concordat on Openness. Scientists provide details on university websites, publish papers in scientifically peer-reviewed journals with open access, and provide the Home Office with non-technical summaries of the research being undertaken, which are published on the Home Office website.

“A key part of the Annual Statistics will be results of the Retrospective Assessment of the severity of procedures. For the first time in these Annual Statistics, details will be released of what animals have actually experienced in the laboratory procedure. This is of particular significance for NHP neuroscience research in the UK, because at present, the Home Office judges that neuroscience research in NHPs requires that almost every Project Licence has a ‘Severe’ limit. This severity limit is based upon a prospective assessment. The decision to issue Licences at this limit is important because it implies that the suffering experienced by NHPs in scientific procedures could, however small the risk, reach the maximum level allowed by ASPA. This decision has clear implications as to how such NHP research is viewed by the general public, universities, research funders, medical charities and animal welfare organisations.

“In reality, an earlier survey set up by the Home Office itself and published in 2013 concluded that, in fact, 98% of the procedures carried out on 228 NHPs were at the ‘Moderate’ level. If today’s statistics reveal a similar trend, this Expert Group calls on the Home Office, in conjunction with the Animals in Science Committee, to review their process of making prospective severity assessments on Project Licences such that they are matched to the intended and actual practice. The new data coming from retrospective assessment should be used to optimise that matching process. This would provide a more accurate picture of NHP neuroscience research that is being carried out in the UK.”


Declared interests

Dr Vicky Robinson: “The Home Office provides core funding of £250k per annum to the NC3Rs.”

Prof. Chris Petkov: “I am an academic scientist working for Newcastle University. My work involves studies of humans and, whenever necessary, studies of nonhuman primates as an animal model system for the human disorders that we study. I am also on a grant review panel for the Wellcome Trust and have had or hold funding from Wellcome Trust, US funding agencies, BBSRC and NC3Rs.”

Mr Kirk Leech: “EARA is a membership organisation advocating the role of animal models in scientific research on behalf of our members. EARA members are public and privately funded research institutions and organisations performing animal research in accordance to the European Directive 2010/63/EU.”

Mr Steve Bates: “None, except that the BioIndustry Association (BIA) represents innovative organisations in UK life sciences, many of whom are developing medical innovations. Some of the members we represent therefore are directly or indirectly involved in animal research.”

None others received.

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