[Times Online - opinion]
Junk medicine: experiments on animals
The number of scientific experiments conducted on animals has declined
considerably over the past 30 years. The trend, however, has been
reversed recently. The total has risen in each of the past five years
and new data released by the Home Office this week show that the 2006
figure exceeded three million for the first time since 1991.
This has angered even the more considered elements of the animal
rights lobby. The RSPCA pronounced itself furious and shocked, while
the Dr Hadwen Trust, which supports medical research with nonanimal
methods, blamed the Government's "ethical negligence". Its message was
clear: scientists might talk about replacing, reducing and refining
animal experiments, but this is mere lip service. The statistics tell
a tale of more animal suffering.
The development of nonanimal methods is of course welcome, and when
such techniques have been validated it is right to use them. The
number of nonGM animal procedures in research, indeed, has come down
from 2.27 million in 1995 to 1.65 million last year. Further
investment is appropriate, but too narrow a focus on reduction would
mean abandoning new animal models just as they are becoming most
useful. Science must be serious about both medical progress and animal
welfare, but that may mean using more animals when necessary, and
fewer when it is not.
Mark Henderson is Science Editor of The Times