The Home Office has today published the Statistics on the Use of Animals in Scientific Procedures for 2015. The report shows 4.14 million procedures were conducted in 2015, representing an increase of 1%, or 21,000 procedures, compared with 2013.
Of the 4.14 million procedures, 2.08 million (just over 50%) were experimental procedures and 2.06 million (just under 50%) related to the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals – mostly mice – that were not used in further experimental procedures.
Trends over time
In 2014, the Home Office made some changes to how it collected the data for these statistics. This led to some misreporting for that year. The statistics published today have therefore been compared to 2013 rather than 2014 in the Home Office report.
The 2.08 million experimental procedures in 2015 represents an increase of 3% or 63,000 procedures compared with 2013. And the 2.06 million genetically altered animals created or bred but not used in further procedures in 2015 represents a decrease of 2% or 41,000 procedures compared with 2013.
This represents a slight change in the overall trend of how animals are being used as there has been a steady increase over the past decade in the use of genetically-altered animals. In between 2006 and 2013, the total number of all procedures increased by 37% (1.11 million procedures). The creation and breeding of genetically altered animals primarily accounted for this rise (1 million procedures) whilst the increase in the number of experimental procedures was much smaller (107,000 procedures).
Which species are used and how severe are the scientific procedures?
Of the 2.08 million experimental procedures completed in 2015, the majority involved mice (61% or 1.26 million procedures), followed by fish (14% or 294,000 procedures), rats (12% or 258,000 procedures) and birds (7% or 141,000 procedures). Experimental procedures involving specially-protected species (i.e. horses, dogs, cats, and non-human primates) accounted for just 0.8% (17,000) of procedures in 2015. There are additional standards for these animals and their use requires greater justification.
Nearly all of the procedures relating to the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals that were not used in further procedures involved mice (86% or 1.77 million procedures); zebrafish (13% or 267,000 procedures) and rats (1% or 11,000 procedures) were the second and third most-used species for genetic alteration.
One of the changes introduced in 2014 was the reporting of the actual severity of the procedure, which is assessed after the procedure is completed. This is more accurate than predicted severity, which is what was reported prior to 2014. However, this led to some misreporting in the 2014 dataset and today’s Home Office report does warn that some – but less – misreporting of these details will still be a problem in the 2015 dataset. It expects this to improve over successive years and says it has already improved guidance.
Of the severity assessments undertaken for the 2.08 million experimental procedures completed:
- 13% (268,000) were assessed as sub-threshold (compared with 9% in 2014);
- 6% (123,000) were assessed as non-recovery (compared with 7% in 2014);
- 51% (1.06 million) were assessed as mild (compared with 51% in 2014);
- 24% (502,000) were assessed as moderate (compared with 25% in 2014);
- 6% (123,000) were assessed as severe (compared with 8% in 2014).
And of the severity assessments undertaken for genetic alteration procedures:
- 55% (1.13 million) were assessed as sub-threshold (compared with 46% in 2014);
- 2% (3,300) were assessed as non-recovery (compared with 0.1% in 2014);
- 39% (806,000) were assessed as mild (compared with 48% in 2014);
- 3% (65,000) were assessed as moderate (compared with 4% in 2014);
- 3% (62,000) were assessed as severe (compared with 2% in 2014).
The report and associated data tables provide much greater detail about all species used, the severity of procedures, and changes on levels of their use over time.
What is the BIA’s position on animal research?
Animal research plays an invaluable and legally-mandated part in the development of medicines. It is extremely important – and a legal obligation – for researchers to ensure that promising new medicines are tested for safety and efficacy (i.e. having the intended effects) as far as possible before they are tested in humans.
The BIA is a signatory of the Concordat on Openness on the Use of Animals in Research, an agreement supported by a range of organisations – including universities, companies, research funders and umbrella organisations – to commit to being open about the use of animals in research in the UK.
The UK has among the highest standards in the world for the welfare of animals used in research, including a commitment to the 3Rs – the reduction, replacement and refinement of animals used in research. The BIA supports the aims of the Concordat, which will help the research community to communicate about the benefits, limitations and nature of animal research to ensure the public has the information they need to develop informed views on this topic.