Animal efforts 'need bigger push'
By Paul Rincon
The last figures showed animal experiments had risen slightly
Efforts to reduce the suffering of animals used in testing are hampered by
poor funding and a reluctance by scientists to share experimental data.
That was the reaction of campaigners as a major report into the ethics of
animal testing in the UK was published.
Ministers have announced more funding for a national centre for the "three
R's": refinement, reduction and replacement of animals in research.
The working group behind the report did not reach agreement on key issues.
Unless we are allowed that full information we cannot in my judgement have
an informed debate
David Thomas, Buav
The panel, set up by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, included scientists,
animal rights groups, philosophers and a lawyer.
The report is an attempt to tie together the major strands of the animal
experimentation debate for policy-makers and the general public.
It backed the three R's approach, emphasising the need to reduce suffering
and find replacement methods that do not involve animals.
"A world in which the important benefits of such research could be achieved
without causing pain, suffering, distress, lasting harm or death to animals
involved in research must be the ultimate goal," it added.
The report highlights the recent rise in the use of genetically modified
animals in labs, which have become increasingly important to science as
researchers try to understand how human genes work.
The true effects of genetic modification could be difficult to assess, it
said. Therefore, more effort should be made to assess and monitor the
welfare of such animals.
On Tuesday, the government announced it was awarding £3m in funds to the
recently established National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and
Reduction of Animals in Research for 2006-2008.
But some still regard the funding for such initiatives as a drop in the
UK ANIMAL PROCEDURES (2003)
About 2.8m new 'experiments' are started each year
In the mid-1970s this figure was over 5m
Mice are the dominant research tool, followed by rats
About 40% of all procedures use some form of anaesthesia
Non-human primates form a tiny fraction of the experiments
No great apes can be used in animal experiments
No wild-caught monkeys can be used in animal experiments
"By no means is it sufficient," said Nirmala Bhogal, science manager at
campaign group Frame.
Others criticise the lack of detailed information on animal tests carried
out in the UK. The working party accepted that rivalry between different
scientific research teams and commercial confidentiality in industry
complicated the sharing of information.
"If the Home Office and the government backed proposals to make it mandatory
to share information [about animal tests], perhaps that would move things
along," said Ms Bhogal.
David Thomas, legal adviser to the British Union for the Abolition of
Vivisection (Buav), added: "Unless we are allowed that full information we
cannot in my judgement have an informed debate."
And some say the very manner in which the Home Office reports statistics on
animal testing hides the scale and extent of animal suffering and the
needless duplication of experiments.
Members of the working group backed away from criticising the Home Office's
way of reporting animal testing statistics.
However, Professor Steve Brown, from the Medical Research Council's Mouse
Genome Centre, said "there should be much more retrospective reporting of
what went on in project licences - how many animals were used, what was the
degree of pain and suffering.
"We can look back on project licences to get a view of what were the
results, the benefits and what were the costs."
The report concludes that it is unrealistic to assume that all animal
experiments will end in the short term. The working party therefore appealed
for open and rational discussion with "due respect for all views".
It gives examples of where animals have proven useful models for the study
of human biology and disease, but that the issue had to be judged on a
But Andre Menache, scientific consultant to campaign group Animal Aid, said
the Nuffield report was "a missed opportunity".
"It assumes animal experimentation benefits human health. The Home Office,
by its own admission, has never commissioned an investigation into the
efficacy of animal testing," he said.
"Adverse drug reaction is the fourth biggest killer in the UK today. That
points to the fact that there is something wrong with the system that relies
so heavily on animal experimentation."