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The number of experiments conducted in British laboratories in 2013 was the highest in nearly 30 years, according to government statistics published today. The total of 4.12 million ‘procedures’ exceeded the 2012 figure by 11,600. The use of genetically modified (GM) mice once again dominated the Home Office’s (HO) annual figures, and the department’s strategy is a clear one: to suggest that little or no suffering is involved in this area of research because most of it involves benign breeding programmes.

In reality, as Animal Aid’s 2013 report, Science Corrupted revealed, GM animals undergo severe and traumatic suffering, as a result of:

  • Being subjected to invasive gene-altering surgery
  • Being born with devastating but unintended malformations, such as facial deformities and exposed internal organs
  • Suffering ‘designed-in’ conditions including heart disease, brain damage and cancer
  • Being subjected to cruel experiments that have involved injecting acid into their stomachs or being locked in plexiglass chambers and forced to inhale tobacco smoke

Of the 3.08 million procedures on mice conducted in 2013, 2,190,742 were on genetically modified animals or those with harmful genetic mutations. Universities were the biggest GM mice users. In fact, universities now account for 49% of all experiments conducted in British labs. Important sources of their funding, as Animal Aid has revealed, are medical research charities funded by public donations, and government research council grants paid for by the taxpayer.

Another alarming development, revealed today by the HO’s report, is the increase in the total number of monkeys used. Although the emphasis by apologists is often on monkey experiments related to disease research (focused on, for instance, brain function), 1,719 out of 2,468 monkeys used in 2013 were subjected to crude poisoning tests (toxicity studies). Despite ongoing public protests against importing monkeys from overseas, by far the largest number of experiments (2,377 of 3,236) were conducted on animals acquired from non-British and non-EU sources.

The public will also be unsettled by a dramatic increase in alcohol-related experiments – a type of animal torment that many imagined was a thing of the past. Other disturbing increases relate to the use of guinea pigs (26,342 – more than double the total in 2012), as well as gerbils (procedures up by 82%), reptiles (up 36%), pigs (10%), rabbits (9%) and sheep (7%). There was a more modest increase in the use of fish but the extraordinary number involved is 501,841. Birds were also used prolifically (138,287). The statistics suggest that most were intended to address problems of intensive poultry production.

When it comes to the species about which the public is most concerned, cat use declined (109 used) but dogs (3,554) and horses/other equines (330) both showed increases.
Today, the Home Office also published the annual report of its department that regulates and licenses animal experiments (the Animals in Science Regulation Unit). Despite an enormous workload, the department saw a reduction of around 11% in the number of full-time staff (or the equivalent measured in hours). The report also gives examples of bad practice and rule breaches in licensed establishments. These include: animals chewing off their feet or toes; others being starved and deprived of water; a lab worker decapitating animals without authorisation; and an air conditioning failure leading to the death of hundreds of animals. In addition to these formally recognised examples, investigations by animal campaign groups demonstrate that a great many ‘non-compliances’ go undetected.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:
‘When this government came to power it pledged to reduce the number of animals used. But once again, for the third consecutive year, the total has increased. There is an attempt to conceal the bad news by suggesting that the exponential increase in the use of GM animals does not somehow represent animal suffering. But, as we have shown through our detailed investigations in this area, GM animals are subjected to some of the most horrific torments imaginable. Being small and assigned low cultural status does not diminish the enormity of the scandal.

‘Part of the tragedy of the modern vivisection story is that these animal victims are sacrificed pointlessly. The data extracted so violently from them cannot be reliably applied to human medicine. And yet there are so many other modern, human-relevant methodologies at the disposal of biomedical researchers. They must embrace them wholeheartedly, for the sake of both the animal victims and the general public, which expects modern research to be both rational and ethical.’