Could Brexit lead to an increase in animal experiments?

Written by Jan Creamer on 21 August 2017

Could Brexit lead to an increase in animal experiments? | Photo credit: Press Association

There are concerns that regulations on animal experiments could be lost after Brexit, writes Jan Creamer.

There are concerns that hard fought for regulations on animal experiments could be lost after Brexit.

This follows the release of UK Home Office figures showing that 3,867,528 animals were used for research last year, a decrease of 201,821. The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is seeking a clear commitment from the government that measures will not be dismantled.

There are particular concerns that Brexit could harm the development of alternative methods and lead to an increase in duplication of animal experiments if not addressed.


There are also fears that some areas covered by EU but not UK law could be dropped: controls on inspections, detailed recording on cat, dog and primate use, and a commitment to phase out the use of macaques from wild caught parents. 

Although the UK statistics suggest no current use of monkeys born to wild caught parents, it does import from countries such as Mauritius, where monkey breeders restock with animals captured in the wild.

While the UK is unlikely to allow cosmetics testing on animals once again, the EU cosmetics directive also bans the import of products that have been tested on animals. This key directive prevents manufacturers in the USA, China and others from selling their products in Europe if they have been animal tested.

We need a clear commitment from the UK government that all current regulations affecting animals in research will remain in place. Weakening these important measures, particularly implementation of non-animal methods, will be a bad deal for the animals, and for science.

The latest Home Office figures on the use of animals in research reveal that over 784,824 experiments and breeding procedures forced animals to suffer severely (153,558) or moderately (631,266 - an increase of 64,208). 

Severe suffering can include internal bleeding, heart failure, and nerve damage. Moderate suffering can include implanting a device into monkeys' skulls, with common adverse effects including wound infections. 1,484,320 'mild' experiments were conducted, a decrease of 385,199. Mild suffering can include food or water restriction to motivate performance in behavioural tasks and foot shocks in mice.

2,863,717 mice, the most commonly used species, were used in tests, a decrease of 171,132 and 245,583 rats, a decrease of 20,155.

535,069 fish, the second most used species, were used in experiments, a decrease of 17,193.

3530 dogs were used in tests, an increase of 125. Experiments can involve force-feeding compounds such as agricultural chemicals, or having toxic substances pumped into their veins.

2440 monkeys were used in experiments, an increase of 206. Monkeys are used mainly to test drugs and typically endure force-feeding or injections of experimental compounds; full body immobilisation in restraint chairs while they are experimented on.

729,390 experiments were on genetically modified animals. A further 1,914,040 procedures were for the creation and maintenance of animals with genetic modifications, who can suffer from deformed limbs, fused bones and painful swellings. Of the total 2,643,430 procedures involved in the genetic alteration of animals, 2,226,516 included mice and 395,981 fish.


About the author

Jan Creamer is President of the UK's National Anti-Vivisection Society

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