Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of animals used for research and experimentation purposes. On this page, you will see my responses to common enquiries regarding the welfare of these animals. It will be updated on an intermittent basis.
This issue is mainly governed by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA).
Use of animals in research
There is a case for reducing the amount of animals used in medical research, and not just on ethical grounds, but scientific as well. I am pleased that the Government has outlined how it will work to reduce, replace and refine the use of animals in research - known as 'the 3Rs'. The UK's National Centre for the 3Rs has been leading the way in this area, and has already invested over £35 million to support this work.
As a result, trials into cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, as well as toxicity testing, have all seen reductions in animal use. However, animal research still plays a small but important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. It is worth remembering that, as a result of findings from animal studies, a multiplicity of new drugs have been prevented from advancing to human testing. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.
Studies in predictive toxicology, one of which examined over 1200 adverse drug reactions (at an incidence rate of over 5 per cent) from 150 new medicines, show that almost half of said reactions were entirely predictable from animal data. Without animal testing, therefore, it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested on healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials, and Ministers believe that this would be quite unacceptable.
However, animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.
Advances in biomedical science and technologies are all providing new opportunities to reduce reliance on the use of animals in research. As part of this, a Non-animal Technologies Road map for the UK has been produced which offers an approach for the UK to develop, exploit and deploy new non-animal technologies for long-term economic and societal benefit.
Animal testing for cosmetics
The UK was the first country in the world to ban cosmetics testing in animals, which was implemented on a voluntary basis in 1998. The UK was also instrumental in introducing this ban across Europe under the 2009 cosmetics regulations, and it has been illegal to test cosmetics or their intended ingredients on animals in the EU since 2010. In addition, a ban on the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals came into force in 2010.
Warfare experiments on animals (Dstl)
Research using animals is an issue of conscience that evokes strong feelings which I can understand.
I am informed that the work done by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down helps deliver the latest scientific, technological and other advantages for the UK's defence and security. This includes the means to tackle chemical and biological attacks as well as injuries from conventional warfare. Part of Dstl's role is to find solutions to problems that unfortunately cannot currently be addressed without the use of animals in research.
Animals are essential in supporting the scientific processes that save British lives at home and abroad. However, there are rules in place to make sure the testing of animals meets certain ethical standards.
Experimental procedures have to be in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which aims to ensure the suffering of the animals is minimised. This legislation requires the Dstl to report to the Home Office how many animals are used in research every year. Dstl has made significant efforts to keep its levels of animal testing under control, while still helping contribute to the security and defence capability of the UK.
Animal testing by Dstl only makes up less than 0.5 per cent of the national total.