A report by Great Britain’s Home Office indicates that the number of animals used for medical research in that country rose from 2.73 million in 2002 to 2.79 million 2003.
For all experimental procedures, 85 percent involved mice, rats and other rodents; 6 percent involved fish; 4 percent involved birds; and less than 1 percent involved dogs, cats, horses and primates.
Home Office minister Caroline Flint said of the report,
There remains a clear need for the use of animals in vital scientific research where no alternative is available. This type of research saves countless lives each year and the Government fully supports the efforts of scientists working to secure medical advances and public health improvements. The UK’s controls on the use of animals are amongst the tightest in the world.
. . .
The Government has recently established the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research to drive the search for alternatives to animal experiments. But let us not forget, this is essential, life-saving research. Scientists carrying out this work have been targeted by extremist groups and the Government has made clear that this type of criminal behavior will not be tolerated.
But perhaps the bigger long term threat is less from animal rights extremists than from relatively mainstream animal welfare groups that do their fair share to undermine support for animal research. It wasn’t surprising, after all, to see Nicky Gordon of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection tell The Guardian,
Non-human primates are our closest relatives and their capacity to suffer, experience stress and feel pain is clear for all to see. Subjecting them to medical research and toxicology experiments which require them to undergo brain surgery and swallow poisons is abhorrent and should be ended immediately.
It was a bit more surprising, however, to see this exchange between Dr. Simon Festing of the Association of Medical Research Charities and Penny Hawkins of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (emphasis added),
The overall increase of animal use in 2003 is due, in part, to the greater use of genetically modified animals in research aimed at understanding what the 30,000 or so genes inside every human cell actually do.
“One of the things you can do is add a human gene to a mouse so that he mouse gets a disease it otherwise would not have got, like cystic fibrosis,” said Dr Festing. “Then you can observe the mouse and try out new therapies on it.”
But Ms Hawkins said: “Do we actually need to know what every single gene does? Often this is being done without a clear applied medical benefit in mind.“
For someone designated as a “science officer” for the RSPCA, Hawkins seems to have a great deal of ignorance about the importance of basic research.
Animal rights groups protest at 20% rise in experiments on primates. Alok Jha, The Guardian, September 8, 2004.
Animal laboratory experiments up 2.2% – Report. David Barrett, Press Association News, September 7, 2004.