July 24, 2006

Rise in number of animals used in UK research

LONDON (Reuters) - Animals were used in 2.9 million medical
experiments in Britain in 2005, an increase of 1.4 percent from
the previous year, the government said on Monday.

Most of the animals involved were mice, rats and other
rodents. Less than half of one percent of the procedures
included dogs, cats, horses or non-human primates, according to
the figures released by the Home Office.

"The UK has a reputation for producing high quality,
well-regarded research and I welcome the fact that this is
being carried out under some of the highest standards of
welfare and accommodation in the world," Home Office minister
Joan Ryan said in a statement.

"Animal research and testing has played a part in almost
every medical breakthrough of the last century," she added.

Between 1974 and 1996 the number of procedures requiring
animals fell year on year. But since 2000 there has been an
annual rise of 1-2 percent.

The increase is due mainly to the breeding of genetically
modified animals which were included in the figures. By turning
off or inserting genes in animals scientists hope to improve
understanding of human diseases and to develop new treatments.

"The overall figure might seem large but the number of
animals put through severe procedures in very small," Professor
John Martin, of the Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine
and the British Heart Foundation, told a press conference.

Drug companies say animals are a vital part of the research
and development of new medicines and vaccines.

But animals rights groups who have fought a prolonged --
and sometimes violent -- campaign against animal research, said
the latest figures represent a 14-year high.

"The government claims that animal experiments are suitably
monitored and regulated, but this is a claim made without
evidence," said Poorva Joshipura, the European Director of
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Britain set up the National Center for the Replacement,
Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research in 2004. In
addition to improving standards of welfare it also studies
alternatives to animal testing such as computer modeling and
cultured cells grown in test tubes.